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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

It’s been a week now.

A week since Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed.

Despite dire predictions and the horrified wailing from the general direction of the American Southwest, there’s been no mutiny in the ranks, no revolt, no revolution.  There’s been no desertions, singly or en mass.   There has been no sudden collapse of good order and discipline.  Morale and esprit de corps remain high (or as high as you would expect given that we’re now entering our tenth year of perpetual combat operations).  Our military medical system hasn’t collapsed under the sudden onslaught of Teh Gay Diseases. Soldiers aren’t wandering about holding hands and sporting rainbow colored berets and pastel camies.

No, it’s been pretty much business as usual.

As you probably know, I spent most of my life in the US Navy.  Being retired, I’m no longer on active duty, but I’m not entirely a civilian either.  These days I work with both US Air Force and US Army personnel. I’m surrounded by the military on a daily basis.  Given my background and embedded as I am, I enjoy a vantage point that gives me a fairly good cross-sectional view of the US Military. I see things. I hear things. And you’d think the DADT repeal would be a hot topic around base.  You’d think, man, as big a deal as the repeal was on Capitol Hill, in Washington, at the Pentagon, military folks would be talking about it.  Given the sheer volume of pundit bloviating from FoxNews, and the squawking from those Lame Ducks, and the enormous amount of hot flatulent air emanating from John McCain, you’d think then that DADT would be a big damned deal around here. Wouldn’t you?

If you thought that, you’d be wrong.

Seventeen years ago, when Bill Clinton hammered out the deal that would let gays serve covertly in the military, I was stationed in Maine, a student at a small specialized training facility. The Lieutenant in charge shut down the course and gathered staff and students into the classroom to ask us all what we thought of the new policy.  He didn’t try to explain Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (probably because the regulation seemed fairly self explanatory) or what it would mean to the military or to us in particular – we were all involved in a highly classified and unusual program, and upon graduation, assuming we graduated, we’d all be headed off to small, very tightly knit, self-contained units in remote and isolated locations. In garrison we would live like any other small military unit ashore, but when deployed to the field our twelve person teams lived in each others’ pockets and there was no privacy at all.  Our ability to carry out our highly complex and difficult mission, often under extreme circumstance, depended entirely on how well we worked together, on how well we got along.  If we couldn’t trust each other, if we couldn’t come together as a team, we would most certainly fail.  Given our situation, there wasn’t much we didn’t know about each other – and I happen to know that more than one of those folks was indeed gay, but I didn’t ask and they didn’t tell and DADT didn’t really change much of anything.  The Lieutenant certainly didn’t explain how this change in policy would affect us, he just wanted our opinions regarding gays serving secretly among us (and frankly I’m pretty sure the LT was gay, but I digress).  As I recall, most of us didn’t care one way or the other, I know I didn’t. The exception, of course, was the fundamentalist Christian member of our cadre – who opined loudly that God had created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve (the first time I’d ever heard that particular expression. It wouldn’t be the last).

Oddly enough, my training group, the twelve of us gathered in that classroom wondering how to answer the Lieutenant’s question, was the first to incorporate women – two of them in fact.  

The program was fairly young in those days, only a couple of years old, but up until my class it had been a good ole boy kind of assignment.  Given the nature of the mission, the harsh physicality of it, the isolation, the close quarters, it had been designed as a male-only mission. The introduction of woman, by Congressional decree in the immediate aftermath of the Navy’s Tailhook Scandal, was received about like you’d expect in the male-dominated Navy of that time, i.e. not well.  The quarters, equipment, and machines we lived in, both in garrison and in the field, had to be modified in order to provide a bare modicum of privacy – something that had never been necessary before.  Odd questions came up, embarrassing questions, things that people didn’t know how to deal with.  Here’s an example (one of many):  In the field, we were self-contained. We lived and worked within specialized shelters, semi-trailers coupled together into a mission complex.  In one of the shelters there was a very small shower/toilet area. Given the parameters we had to operate under, our system could not store wastes, e.g. we had no sewage tank like you’d find in an RV. The shower and small sink therefore drained gray water to a pit outside. But, obviously, that wasn’t an option for the toilet.  Instead we used something called an Incinolet, commonly referred to as the “Atomic Shitter.” This foul monstrosity was a stainless steel throne with a clamshell device under the seat. You put a tissue-paper liner in the bowl, did your business, and when you were done you stood up and closed the lid and pressed a foot pedal on the base of the machine.  The waste bag would (hopefully) drop into a bin underneath and (hopefully) be incinerated into (hopefully) sterile ash by high voltage electric coils.  There were some drawbacks.  The bag didn’t always completely clear the clamshell, which meant that the machine wouldn’t work, sometimes you’d have to reach in there and fix it. Even when the bag dropped on the correct trajectory the system was complex and finicky and didn’t always work right.  It took twenty or thirty minutes per cycle, depending on, uh, well, the size of the load. It vented clouds of noxious smoke to the outside, which often, depending on the prevailing wind, blew directly into the shelter environmental control air intake and filled our life support system with the sickening stench of burning crap (more than once, the shelter’s Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological protection systems were activated in an attempt to filter out the foul cloud, often with less than complete success).  God help you if the power failed during a turd burn because then the exhaust system would shut down and the outside vent flaps dropped closed and the shelters would fill with dense shit-flavored smoke. At least once a watch, depending on usage, the unit’s ash pan would have to be emptied (people living on MRE’s tend to need to use the toilet a lot, it’s true, you can look it up), a job that was, shall we say, not particularly popular  – especially if the incinerator didn’t finish the job completely and left you with a honeypot of bubbling hot liquefied feces, or just failed to work altogether, which happened so often that it became a tired joke (remember, military equipment is built by the lowest bidder).  Another interesting quirk of the Atomic Shitter was this: you never, ever, ever, pushed the flush pedal whilst enthroned. Really.  Because, see, sometimes, the previous load was still burning down there under your bum and while this made the stainless steel seat nice and warm (something deeply appreciated when we operated in northern winter Maine or Alaska at -30F), pushing the pedal when the cooker was engaged would open the clamshell letting oxygen into the incinerator compartment resulting in orange sooty flames shooting up out of the bowl – filling the shelter with both the smell of burning turds and the smell of burning ass hair, usually followed by yelling and cursing. Yes, the Atomic Shitter was the source of much amusement, and much horror, and just something we lived with as part of the job. 

But see, here’s the thing, up until my class, nobody had ever wondered if the toilet would work for women – or to be more precise, women’s particular needs, say like feminine hygiene products.  Seems silly, doesn’t it? If the incinerator would (hopefully) vaporize human waste, it should (hopefully) have no problem with pads and tampons.  Right?  Well, no, actually. Or rather, maybe. Depending.  The system was designed to (hopefully) work with wet human waste (and it didn’t work all that great when operated within design parameters), what would happen when you introduced cotton, paper, and plastic?  You might have a fire, which in our self-contained system was a major concern.  The plastic or foam material from certain products could melt onto the electrodes, fouling (heh heh) the system. If it failed we didn’t have much alternative other than finding a convenient tree and dropping trou at -30F.  And what if we couldn’t put that stuff in there? What would we do with it? Store it? For weeks? Where? There were twelve to fourteen of us living inside a space about the size of a minivan (with a menstruating woman for God’s sake) – there wasn’t any extra room for the storage of biological waste.  What the hell were we supposed to do? Congress didn’t bother to tell us that, they just waved their flabby arms and said, “make it so.”

In the end, the manufacturer gave us a list of products that could be safely disposed of in the incinerator and the women used those for the duration of the deployment if it became necessary and the issue became moot (ultimately, and against regulation, we started ordering Port-O-Potties from a local vender whenever we happened to be deployed and just stopped using that stinking monstrosity altogether).  Again, seems silly, all this concern about something simple, doesn’t it?   Funny thing: after all of that, those two women didn’t work out and both left the program within a year – but many female Sailors followed them and by the time I helped decommission the program years later, women had been an integral part of the teams for so long that few even knew that it had ever been different. 

That same exact problem, the hygiene product problem, was a huge issue when women began going to sea on Navy combat ships in large numbers – as a combat ship’s sanitation system simply was not designed to deal with feminine hygiene products on a large scale.  When those ships were built, nobody ever thought about female crew, there were no such things.  But the Navy and military changed and somebody did have to think about it. It was a minor thing, comparatively speaking. But that and the myriad of other issues, some real, some imagined, some simple, some horribly complex, the difficult issues that come from putting young, physically fit, very active, and by design strongly heterosexual people together into small spaces, and isolated, stressful, and often dangerous situations for long periods of time had to be dealt with – and in fact we’re still dealing with it.  And it is  far, far more complex than simply waving a magic wand, or changing a law or a regulation, or saying, “make it so.”

But, it did happen.  Women were integrated seamlessly into the military.  And the military did what the US military always does, what we were designed to do, what we are sworn to do – we followed the orders of the civilian leadership and in the end we did make it so.

We lost people along the way, those who could not, or would not, change. 

But, we gained people too. Good people.  Many of them were women.

And the United State military became better for it, much better, more professional, more honorable, more capable, more diverse, more innovative, more flexible, more intelligent, more efficient. This result is unsurprising when you realize that we’d been keeping half our population, half our talent, half our ability, and half our viewpoints away, out of sight, out of mind. Stupid. Obviously. In retrospect. And nowadays, military folks look at you funny if you ask them whether or not women should serve on the front lines (well, most of them anyway).  Change in large systems is hard and often fraught with peril, but without it you get stagnation.  The military is a conservative entity by nature, by design, but it does change – even if sometimes that change is forced by direction. The Commandant of the Marine Corps said it best, to paraphrase: If you ask me my opinion, I don’t want DADT changed, but if you do change it then by God the Marines will lead the way.  And they will too, just as the Marines have always done, you watch and see if they don’t – one thing about Marines, they give their word, they damned well keep it or die trying.

You know, it’s funny, I often hear the veterans of my generation, and the ones that came before us, disparage the young men and women who serve today.  It’s good natured, mostly.  I guess it’s a right of passage, each generation considers itself better than the ones that come after, their trials are always harder, their triumphs always greater, their failures forgotten, their leaders better (or worse, depending on the nature of the story), and so on.  The kids nowadays just can’t understand what it was like back then, they’re soft, we had it hard not like it is now with your iPods and tongue rings and flush toilets.  I am, of course, as guilty of this viewpoint as any old vet, but, I’m still submerged in the military, and the “kids” who wear the uniform today – and, Goddamn if they don’t look younger every day – they are every bit as good, better in fact, than we ever were. They are smart and proud and gung-ho.  We’ve been fighting two wars for nearly a decade now, hard wars, tough, brutal, against a vicious and tenacious enemy, and yet this generation still volunteers to go, to put their lives on the line, over and over and over again, every single day.

These men and women, the ones who wear the uniform today, are not like we were, just as we were not like our fathers, and our fathers were not like our grandfathers.  The military of today is a new generation.  Their world is not ours. Their war is not ours. The challenges they face out there in the dark and dangerous corners of the world are not the ones I faced, or my dad faced, or my grandfather.  Or John McCain.   The men and women who serve today know what matters, they’re not kids, they’ve been to war – some a half dozen times now – and they know what matters to them.

In the last two weeks I’ve heard the DADT repeal come up in conversation exactly zero times.

Yes that’s correct. Zero.

And I’ve been listening for it.

The vast majority of the military simply doesn’t care.

They care about equipment that works, and intelligence and information that is accurate and reliable, and commanders who won’t waste their lives, and decent pay and benefits, and a schedule that gives them some time with their families between combat deployments, and a Veteran’s Administration that is funded and facilities that are maintained to reasonable levels, and a nation that remembers their sacrifice.  They care that the men and women who guard their flank when the bullets start flying can be trusted and they just don’t care who those people might be sleeping with.

Most of them simply don’t give a flaming bag of shit whether gays are allowed to serve openly or not.

There are issues that will have to be solved. There are.  Just as there were when women and minorities were integrated into the services.  Sensitive issues, the issues of housing and showers and privacy and relationships (both sexual and platonic and perceived) and benefits and who, exactly, is a military dependent.  Regulations will have to be changed, military law has to be changed.  Example: the UCMJ defines sodomy to such a degree that most heterosexuals would have to be prosecuted if military law was applied as written.  There is a significant number of Sailors and Marines who would have to spend time in the brig after every liberty port if the Adultery regulations were actually enforced as written. Military Law is outdated and long overdue for change, and it does have to be changed, it can’t be ignored – just as we couldn’t ignore the question of how to dispose of feminine hygiene products back in the day.   Integrating gays into the military openly will take time, the military will have to change – and it will, because it always does, military culture only appears static, in reality it is constantly reinventing itself – but it’s not as easy as waving your arm and saying “make it so.”  And it’s important to remember that.  Some changes will have to mandated, to change military law will require Congressional and Presidential authorization. It will require training.  Some changes will happen of their own accord, over time.  It will require many, many little changes, not all of which are apparent.

People will have to change.

Especially the old guard. Especially the leadership.

Because, of course, there are those who do care. Who won’t serve with openly gay comrades.  A few will get out, just as some I knew who left the service rather than serve at sea with, or for, women. Just as some did back when African Americans were integrated into the military as equals.  That’s their choice.  Go and good riddance. The world has changed, the military is changing, change with it or be left behind.  Because if you stay, if you choose to wear the uniform, then you are sworn to uphold the orders of the President and the officers appointed over you, whether you agree with those changes or not.  Period and no exceptions.  You held up your right hand and swore an oath. Either your word is good, or it’s not, there is no middle ground.

So help you God.

Oddly though, it’s those who hold God above all things that are having the most trouble with this change. 

I am, of course, talking about the Chaplain Corps.  A majority of which have voiced their opposition to openly gay troops.  Like my shipmate all those years ago who dogmatically maintained that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, many in the Chaplain Corps say that they cannot live up to their oath. These Chaplains, these Christians, say that they cannot minister to those who wear the uniform and serve their country and have sworn to give up their lives, if they are openly gay.  These Chaplains, these so-called men of God, who lay claim to superior virtue and morality, have demanded the right to perform their duty on a case by case basis.  They have demanded the right follow only the rules and regulations and orders they agree with (what if we give military surgeons the same discretion? Pull the thread on that and see where it takes you).  They have demanded that others live a lie so that they don’t have to live up to their oaths, an oath sworn before their country, their service, and their God.   In short, they protest because for them not to live a lie, others must – and they see nothing wrong with this.

I have a simple solution to this dilemma.

If you as a military chaplain, as a matter of conscience, cannot live up to your sworn oath, if you cannot put the orders of the President and the officers appointed over you ahead of the tenets of your religious conviction, if you cannot serve with and minister to both your straight and gay comrades without prejudice, without bigotry, without judgment, then you can get the fuck out. 

It’s really just that simple.

Resign your commission and get out. Now. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.  You’re officers, either start acting like officers or take off the uniform.

However, should you choose to stay, well then you have two choices:

1) Speak up. Refuse to stay silent. Refuse to minister to gay Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, or Guardsmen. Stand pat on principle. Do not allow the government or the military to dictate your beliefs, convictions, lifestyle, or relationships.

At which point you will be immediately separated from the service via Administrative Discharge.  Goodbye and good luck.

-Or-

2) You can keep silent and do the job you swore to do.  We won’t ask you about your hypocrisy, and you don’t tell anybody.

We’ll call it Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. 

You think it’s such a good idea? You think it’s fair? You think it’s moral and just? You live with it.

Seventeen years from now, we’ll come back and see how it worked out for you.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

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Best present? Kid let us sleep almost until dawn. 

Dawn in Alaska this time of year is about 10AM.

Merry Christmas, Folks, hope yours is a good one.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Twas the Night Before Christmas 1966

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My younger brother, Mike, and I, Christmas 1966 (I think).  The dog’s name was Irish, as befitting the Irish field setter that she was.

The picture was taken in my parents’ first little house on Cottonwood Drive in Jenison, Michigan by my mom using her old  (then new) Brownie box camera (I know my mom took this picture, because all the pictures from this period taken by my dad had his finger over the lens, making them easy to identify – it’s a running joke in my family).  The original print has long faded into oblivion, but my mom kept the negatives all these years.  A while back the film was damaged in a fire, this on top of 40 years of fading and degradation of the film stock.   A couple of years ago I scanned them into digital format using an HP transparent materials scanner and found that the silver nitrate and the fixatives used back then had shifted the negative’s color far to the red over the years.  The negatives were scratched and damaged and dusty and some just weren’t recoverable.  But I ran what I could through  Corel’s Paintshop Photo Pro using the restoration tools package, this was one of those pictures.  It’s a little dark, but that’s typical of the old format and the flash bulbs used to illuminate the shot (if you’re too young to remember rotary dial phones and flash bulbs, well you can look forward to telling your kids about MP3 players and the wild wooly days of unregulated internet service).

Merry Christmas, Folks.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse, The View From Palmer, Alaska

It was pretty spectacular.

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You can click on the picture for a larger image.

 

It was crisp and very cold out and we had a great view out the sunroom window looking straight across the MatSu Valley at the moon above Pioneer Peak.  I mounted the camera on the tripod and kept stepping outside to snap time exposure pictures, then back inside to warm up.  Taken with the Nikon D5000. F-stop 5.6. ISO 2000. 4 sec exposure. 300mm Nikor lens.  Only photoshopping is some cropping.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Day in Pictures: The Anchorage Polar Plunge

We spent yesterday in Anchorage watching a bunch of crazy people.

How do I know they were crazy?

Well, see, they were jumping into Goose Lake.

For those of you for whom the craziness is not immediately apparent, allow me to explain: see it’s Alaska, in winter. Yesterday in Anchorage it was about –6F.  The top four feet of Goose Lake itself is frozen. Solid. The water underneath is about 31 degrees Fahrenheit.   In order to jump into it, a large hole had to be chopped through the ice with saws. Then, these crazy people showed up in bathing suits, and gorilla suits, and clown suits, and so on and so forth, and variously jumped, dove, and bellyflopped into the water.

Insanity.

It’s called Freezin’ for a Reason at the Polar Plunge. It’s an annual event in Anchorage. 

 

Freezin’ for a Reason 2010

It’s a heck of a lot of fun – as long as you’re not one of the people jumping into the water – and it’s for a good cause. This year the Plunge raised over $271,000 for Alaska Special Olympics.  A couple of folks from my wife’s company were participating, so we bundled up and made a day of it.

I thought you might like to see some of the pictures I took.

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It’s not quite as an insane as it might first appear.  Ok, scratch that, it is completely as insane as it appears – but there are a lot of safety precautions taken too. There are warming shelters and free hot soup for everybody (both those who take the plunge and those who don’t), there are specially trained paramedics on hand with special equipment for dealing with hypothermia – something Alaska paramedics know a bit about.  Those guys standing in the water are Anchorage fire/rescue dressed in arctic survival suits and there are more AFD guys on the ice to assist folks out of the water. Those step ladders are placed at the edge of the hole to make it easy for the plungers to get out of the water. Volunteers hand out giant towels and help people to the warming tents if needed.

Still, you get cold just standing on the ice. Dry. Fully covered. Wearing an Iditarod jacket. In snow pants. With a Blue Fox neck warmer. Seriously. 

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My Wife, Becky

Imagine being soaking wet. 

Still, they appear to be having fun. Like I said, insanity.

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After it was over we went back to the truck and turned the heater to full blast.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Obama Tax Plan: A Matter of Principle

And so it would seem that the President has become the Great Unifier after all.

Too bad he had to commit political suicide in order to do it.

But, hey, at least he managed to finally unify the majority of the country. Everybody, it seems, wants his blood now. Finally, something we can all agree on.

 

In the cold gray light of this bitter December morning, the howling has reached deafening volume and the knives are out.

The Right, of course, already hated him.  No, strike that, hate is not the right word.  Hate doesn’t include the gut wrenching disgust they feel knowing that Barack Obama is sitting in the Oval Office. Hate doesn’t include the gnawing fear they feel – fear that the wrong people, from the wrong side of the tracks, from the wrong side of the political aisle, from the wrong social class, from the wrong race, from the wrong school, from the wrong father, from the wrong world, are invading their private domain, stealing their country, usurping their place.  They loathe him, and they have with a furious red-eyed passion verging on gibbering violent insanity since the minute he first walked up the front steps of the White House.  Those staid conservatives remind me of old American Blue Bloods, those aristocratic lily white New Englanders from the old families who can trace their lineage back to Jamestown or the Mayflower.  The movers and shakers, the ones that live in the big houses in Martha’s Vineyard and the penthouses on 5th Avenue.  They own the money and the power, they own the factories and the businesses and the old department stores and high-class hotels.  They live in the right communities. They go to the right church. They have the right friends. They own the world.  It is theirs by inheritance, by tradition, by destiny, by birthright.  Their world revolves in accordance with a set plan, as it did for their fathers, and as it will for their children.  And then, one day without warning, their precious daughter, America, came home from college with her new boyfriend – a black man.  A goddamned black man. A liberal. One of them. There he sits at the dinner table, he’s polite and intelligent and articulate and a student of law – but all they see are those big jug ears and that white smile and it’s everything they can do to limit their appalled outrage to barbed soto voice comments about fried chicken and watermelon.  All they see is the help acting like an equal in their midst and they’re mortified at the thought of what their friends down at the country club are going to think. No, hate is the wrong word, it’s the wrong word because it doesn’t even begin to describe the sense of violation they feel knowing that later tonight he’s going to be giving their daughter the high hard one under their very own roof. They’ll never accept him. Never. And they’re going to do everything they can, whatever it takes, to end this relationship before it goes any further.  He’s not going to be their son-in-law.  There will be no progeny.  Never. Period. They intend to make it like it never happened. They’ve got powerful friends who know how to fix these things, morality doesn’t enter into it, that’s how it’s done. People need to know their place.

And the Left? Well the Left is now the woman scorned – and Hell, as they say, hath no fury like that bitter angry bitch.  They loved him once, yes they did.  They remember what it was like at the beginning, he was different and exciting and good in bed. He was exotic and maybe a little taboo.  He recited poetry and took them on fabulous dates. And at night he rocked their world.  In their head they’d already married him, picked out fabric swatches and named the children, a girl if I remember right.  Oh sure, he had his flaws, what man doesn’t, right? But they were going to fix those, turn him into the perfect Norman Rockwell painting.  He said he’d change, but after a while they came to the sickening realization that it was hopeless. It turned out that he had a mind of his own.  It turned out that he was just like all the rest.  What a goddamned disappointment he turned out to be.  And the most galling part? Listening to the Right and their mocking taunts, we told you so we told you so nyah nyah.  There is no hatred so bitter as that what used to be love.  They’re cursing his name to their friends and plotting revenge.  Monday they’ll talk to a lawyer and the bastard isn’t going to get a fucking thing.

Both sides are blinded by passion, different passions, but passion nonetheless.

However, in the cold gray light of this December morning, after waiting two days for the other shoe to drop, looking at the President’s decision on the Tax Cut Bill dispassionately, I think he did the right thing.

No, to answer your question, I haven’t lost my mind. Nor have I lost faith in this President. Just the opposite, in fact.

Yes, I know. Go on, get it out of your system, just try not to break anything important … and try not to hit anything with the bones of your hands, that’s what sticks and stones are for, trust me on this.

Perhaps it’s my military background. 

It is far, far too easy to win the battle ... and then lose the war. That’s what happens when you lose sight of the objectives. Far too often on the battleground you’re forced to choose between lousy options.  Far too often you don’t get to pick your enemies – or your allies for that matter.  You end up working with people you dislike, hurting people who are your friends, making choices you hate, and making sacrifices that will haunt you for the rest of your life.  Far too often you have to compromise, and compromise again, losing the respect of those you value, in order to achieve the real objective.  It is a foolish commander indeed who fights the imaginary conflict his nation thinks they are fighting.  It is the utterly ineffective and hapless commander who fights the war he wishes he was fighting.  It is the stupid and brutish commander who fights a war of inflexible political principle.  The wise commander instead understands that the real conflict is defined by the realities of the battlespace.  To expand on Bismark’s original thought: war, like politics, is the art of the possible.

This morning a lot of Democrats feel betrayed. 

The Huffington Post started spitting venom yesterday morning, they even stopped speculating about Wikileaks long enough for one editor to ask “Is Obama Stupid?” HuffPost commenters, liberals in the majority and normally generally supportive of the president, in large part agree that he must be, stupid that is – and I had to look twice to make sure that I hadn’t accidentally stumbled into a forum hosted by FoxNews or Yahoo. Soon to be ex-Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi called the President’s tax plan “a bridge too far,” but an aide for a prominent Democratic Senator went further and was quoted angrily saying that “the president fucked up!”  The media and the internet are aflame with white hot passion and a lot of folks on the Left sound an awful lot like that aforementioned spurned ex.

I can understand this. I can.  But, it does you no good whatsoever, especially in Washington, to wish for those things that simply are not going to happen.  You can stand on principle, inflexible and resolute – you may win the battle, but you will lose the war.  You will.  If you want to achieve the real objective, you have to maneuver within the constrains defined by the battlespace. Politics is, indeed, the art of the possible.

What is possible may not be what you wanted, exactly.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: If you always get what you want, you’re not living in a democracy.

Yeah, sure, but neither is it a democracy if we never get what we want. Right? That’s the anger talking. The Left has gotten plenty of things they wanted in the last two years, and the Right too, and it won’t take you long to make a list if you stop and think about it dispassionately for a minute.  It’s easy today to point at the president and say, he sucks at compromise, he sucks at negotiation, we got screwed! 

Really?

What was the objective?

No, not what was your objective, not what was Democratic Party’s objective, not what was the objective of Democrats in Congress, what was the President’s objective with this tax bill?

He made it clear: 1) Do nothing to destroy the fragile economic recovery. Period. Debt and deficit reduction are secondary to that.  2) Extend unemployment benefits, this has to happen now and it should have happened a month ago, and 3) Do not allow the Bush Era tax cuts to expire for the middle class.

The Republicans in the current lame duck Congress have made it  abundantly clear that they aren’t going to do a goddamned thing, nothing, that serves the president’s agenda – and they will actively block any attempts to move legislation forward.

The Republicans in the new Congress have made it abundantly clear that they aren’t going to do a goddamned thing to further the president’s goals either – and in fact intend to reverse the gains the Left has made over the last two years.

The new Speaker of the House has stated publically that his primary objective is to ensure that the president is not reelected.

This is the battlespace the President must operate in. 

He could pretend it otherwise, he could wish it otherwise, he could stand pat on principle – and in each case there will be only one loser, those Americans who can least afford it. 

The Republicans will not lose, in fact, they’ll win the White House and Senate – and that’s exactly what they’re counting on. 

The Rich will not lose, because they never do. If they end up paying more, so will the poor and middle class. The difference is that the rich can afford it.

Hell, even Barack Obama will not lose. If he stands pat, he’ll lose the office, sure, but the way things are going he will anyway. He’ll be a one term Democrat. Another Jimmy Carter.  But when he leaves office he’ll still have been the first black president and history won’t be able to take that away from him and he’ll still be rich and he’ll still command million dollar speaking fees and he’ll still have a Nobel Peace Prize and he can always go back to teaching constitutional law at any college he so chooses.

No, the only people who will lose, if the president stands pat, is us - the republicans have made that absolutely clear and demonstrated their resolve.  The president himself said, it was like negotiating with hostage takers.  And you know what? It sure sounds good to say you won’t negotiate with hostage takers. It sounds noble and principled. Go on, kill them. We’re not budging. Sure that sounds good.

Unless you happen to be one of the hostages that is.

This isn’t the movies. Bruce Willis isn’t going to blast his way into Congress and take out the obstructionists.  You want the hostages back alive? You better give the sons of bitches what they want.

The president traded tax breaks for the rich, including the Estate Tax, for the things he really wanted, unemployment benefits, no rise in taxes for the middle class, and preservation of economic recovery.  It probably cost him reelection. It cost him the support of his own party.  It cost him the respect of you, his own supporters – the very people who would have lost the most if he had stood pat on principal.  He got the Republicans to agree, even if he had to buy their agreement, after they had firmly demonstrated a willingness to shoot the hostages. Time was running out, it’s now or never. If the lame duck session of Congress doesn’t act, we all lose. And the only way to get the lame duck to do anything was to buy the cooperation of the obstructionist Republicans, there is no time for anything else.  And the Democrats? They’ll agree too. Yes they will.  They already have, enough of them anyway, reluctantly, with gritted teeth, but they will pass the president’s bill.

Two years. The President bought two years.  

Why is that significant, I wondered? Why not extend them for four years or ten or permanently? Why two years?

And so I waited to write this post.  I didn’t figure I would have to wait for long.

You did catch the President’s interview on NPR on Friday morning, yes?  He intends to overhaul the tax code.  Think about that. Think about what that means.  Think about the timing. Notice the lack of Republican response. 

Sucks at compromise?

Sucks at negotiation?

Suck at getting what he really wants?

Bullshit. 

He did what he had to do to achieve the real objective.  Most likely he gave up any chance at a second term to do it.   I strongly suspect that the President of the United States sacrificed the respect of his own party and people and his political career in order to do what was right for the nation as a whole.  History will certainly tell.  I listened to his voice yesterday morning, and he sure as hell didn’t sound like a man who’d sold his people out. Again, maybe it’s my military experience. My particular military experience.  I’ve known a hell of a lot of self centered assholes in my time, those who could always be counted on to put their own careers ahead of their people every single time.  But I’ve known a number of fine, fine NCOs and Officers who would, and did, give everything for their men. 

And I know the difference when I see it. 

Principle? 

Well, you have to decide which of your principles really matter.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

WikiLeaks: Information Just Wants To Be Free


12/5/2010: Update at the end of the post

12/5/2010: Update 2 at the end of the post


 

A number of you have asked my opinion regarding the whole Wikileaks thing.

OK, here it is:  Very Interesting.

Thanks for coming and drive safely.

 

 

 

You’re still here, huh?

I can’t say that surprises me, somehow I didn’t think you’d buy that answer.

But it’s true, I think the situation is very interesting.

However, the reason I find it interesting is not for any of the reasons I’ve seen discussed in the press.

As a number of you know, I spent most of my life in the government secrets business. I’ve had a high level security clearance for longer than I haven’t and though I don’t work in that field anymore, for which I am eternally grateful, I do know a bit about secrets.

And I find this situation very interesting.

For those of you who’ve been living under a barrel these last few days, I am, of course, talking about the huge dump of secret US diplomatic information posted into the public domain by the Whistleblower site, WikiLeaks (I’d post a link, but it wouldn’t be valid for more than a couple of minutes). Most of the information released is in the form of thousands upon thousands of electronic copies of diplomatic cables. 

As a retired military intelligence officer, and as I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t have much use for people who can’t live up to their oath.  I talk about a lot of things here on Stonekettle Station, but I never discuss the information I swore to protect and I never will.  It does not matter whether or not I agree with the reason why it was classified, it does not matter whether or not I think that the information should be in the public domain, and it doesn’t matter if I think the information is over-classified or outdated and no longer worth anything other than a couple of good sea stories.  I swore to protect that information until told otherwise by legitimate authority.  Either your word is good or it isn’t, there is no middle ground – it really is just that simple.  If you feel that you can’t keep your organization’s secrets, especially when keeping those secrets is a condition to being given access to that information in the first place, then you shouldn’t have taken the oath. Period. There really are certain forms of information that need to be protected.  There really is information that the public does not need to know, and in fact has no business knowing. There really are reasons to keep certain things classified.

Yes, yes, I see you there in the back. 

The libertarians are standing on their chairs screaming BULLSHIT! at the top of their lungs.  I know, I’ve met these people in person. I’ve had them scream at me. They believe that government should never, ever, keep secrets of any kind. It is their firm idealistic opinion that the public has a right to know everything.  To which I answer, OK, you pony up your Social Security number, Bank Account number and PIN, and the contents of your internet browser history file and we’ll start with that. That’s usually when the screaming starts. Just as there are legitimate reasons for an individual to keep secrets, there are legitimate reasons for governments to keeps secrets, both from their citizens and from each other.  If you don’t think so, you’re not living in the real world.

Ours is not a true democracy, our nation is a republic. We elect and hire those we hope will be the best stewards of our national interest, we bind them with laws and oaths and we entrust them with the authority to determine what we as citizens should know and what we shouldn’t.  Certainly there are those who are more worthy of this responsibility than others.  But, despite the clich├ęd image of the shiftless government worker or the boneheaded military jarhead, the vast majority are dedicated public servants who hold their oath as a sacred trust.  Just as certainly, some, a minority, do not.  And just as certainly the ancient adage of power corrupting and absolutely power corrupting absolutely is true – there are those entrusted with our government’s secrets who are corrupted by the power, who become patronizing assholes who revel in their secret knowledge or who become so enmeshed in that classified world that they cannot break free.

Government secrets have a tendency of becoming self perpetuating and self generating, spawning more and more secrets without purpose. I do know, probably better than anybody else reading this post, that governments have a bad habit of keeping secret things that really should be in the public domain. It is the nature of governments and their various organs to keep secrets.  On and off over the years I worked at the National Security Agency, I was certain that they would have classified the lunch menu in the commissary if they could have gotten away with it, firmly convinced that the availability of tuna salad was of vital National Security interest. There is absolutely no doubt that governments classify things that don’t need to be classified for any conceivable reason. There is absolutely no doubt that governments over-classify things if left unchecked. Creating secrets becomes habit until those who are in the secrets business end up keeping secrets from each other – which is why the CIA and FBI and NSA don’t play well with others, let alone each other. 

If I was free to talk, I could give you endless examples of information that was so over-classified, often to utterly ridiculous levels, that it couldn’t even be used – making its collection, processing,  and security an apparently pointless waste of government assets and money. 

But here’s the thing, it was not my call to declassify that information.  Period. 

Those determinations are made far, far up the chain of command.  If I thought that information should be declassified, or downgraded in classification, there was a process for bringing it to the attention of the proper authority.  And it works, there were numerous times in my career where I or others like me brought information to the chain of command via the proper procedure and saw it downgraded or declassified. But, there often are reasons to keep information secure that we, as individuals down in the trenches, are unaware of.  A seemly innocuous piece of information, combined with others, can destroy billions of dollars in capability (military, industrial, financial, and so on), compromise missions, ruin negotiations, ruin pending legal cases, impact treaties, give a contractor an unfair advantage, influence the stock market or elections or trade or any number of other things.  Release of information can literally kill people, ours, theirs, innocent bystanders – this is not hyperbole, but indisputable fact. Read up on the Robert Hansen case if you don’t believe me.  I shouldn’t have to spell out what would happen if the name of a confidential Mafia informant was inadvertently released for example.  If he wasn’t killed outright, it would cost the tax payers millions to protect him. It could destroy the State’s case against a mob kingpin.  It could, and has, compromised the public safety.

There are systems in place to prevent runaway over-classification. There are periodic reviews. Classification Authorities (those with the actual power to classify information, and there are very few) must answer to the President and are subject to oversight by Congress. The system is not perfect, it can’t be, but it tends to be self-correcting, if a bit slow and conservative.   The media and public are part of that process, periodic requests for information from both often drive and accelerate that review process and provide a form of persistent error correction that is both vital to the public interest and as a check on governmental power.  Restricting the press will not make you more secure, it will make you less. The Founding Fathers were well aware of this, which is precisely why freedom of the press was specifically spelled out in the First Amendment – no other private business enterprise was, just the press. It’s that important.

There are times – few and far between – where the system does not work. There are times where there is no alternative, no right course of action, where due to the nature of the situation it might be necessary, perhaps even honorable, to break you oath, to get the word out and let the public know what their government is up to and let the chips fall where they may.  Watergate comes to mind, where a President used the power of the Executive to manipulate the electorate, there was no higher authority to appeal to except the American people.  But that is a damned rare situation.  In almost every single case, the unauthorized release of classified information is because some faithless greedy self-aggrandizing  coward betrayed their oath – the case that first brought Wikileaks into the public awareness, Army Specialist Bradley Manning, is a perfect example.

Now, with all that said, I find the current WikiLeaks situation interesting on a number of levels:

- Despite the fact that this release of information is an astonishingly enormous and unprecedented security breach that directly and negatively affects dozens of nations, there is little mention from either our leaders or anybody else’s about the source of the information.  Julian Assange didn’t break into the State Department like some character in a Tom Cruise movie, so how did he get his hands on a quarter of a million classified US diplomatic cables? It could only have been an inside job.  Oddly, the White House has not stood before the American people and sworn to bring the traitor to justice, not really.  The president hasn’t definitively promised the US people that he’ll unleash the FBI and the NSA and the CIA and find the bastard.   I find it odd that President Obama has not aggressively addressed this issue. I find it odd that the press hasn’t called him on it.  I find it even more odd that his political enemies haven’t called him on it, not really – I find that very odd indeed.

- Yesterday, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, made vague and disjointed statements about finding the source of the leak, but spoke mostly about the damage from the information release being limited – a very odd position for a woman known for her powerful and definitive statements, but even more peculiar when you consider that the leak must have originated from within her own organization. The bulk of the information is classified State Department diplomatic cables. More than that, they are diplomatic cables dealing with many, many countries.  A low level flunky would have only had access to his or her area of specialty, i.e. a particular diplomatic area of responsibility, access is limited to “need to know.”  Whoever released this information had full access.  And not only full access, but access in such a manner that it allowed him or her the privacy to copy those files from a secure network onto a portable storage device and get that storage device through security with a reasonable degree of confidence that they wouldn’t be caught. It means a secure private office. It means that they were confident that their computer transactions weren’t being monitored – and obviously were not or they would have been caught by now.   It means that they had working USB ports on a classified computer in a controlled space.  It means they aren’t the type of people who get searched upon exiting the building.  It means that whoever did this is somebody high up in the State Department.  I find it very odd that Clinton hasn’t sworn a blood oath to hunt down the source of the leak – based on the likely level of the leak, it’s probably somebody she knows personally.  And then, just to make the situation more peculiar, Clinton announced that she will retire from public service and will not seek another office following her stint as Secretary of State – though it’s possible, maybe even likely, that this is only a coincidence, I find that the timing of that announcement very odd indeed.

- Congress has not availed themselves of the opportunity to grandstand. Oh, they’ve made some vague statements and waved their arms around a lot, they’ve spoken about the damage (or not) this release of information has caused, they’ve bloviated at length about WikiLeaks itself – but none have out and out sworn to seek out and destroy the source the leak.  Neither Senators Lieberman or McCain have taken the opportunity to beat their chests in a manly fashion and make noises about a Congressional Investigation – which given the current political climate is extremely peculiar, because Lieberman and McCain convene an investigation if somebody leaves the toilet seat up in the Congressional shitter.  Sure, the usual cast of characters have condemned the White House for the situation, but they’re not using it to make the kind of political hay you’d expect given their recent track record. Why is that?

I’m no conspiracy nut.  But if I was, I’d have to wonder if this wasn’t done on purpose.

Why?

Well, that would depend on who released the information.

If it was done by the White House, it effectively eliminated Hillary Clinton as a rival for the Democratic nomination in 2012.  Conservative hatred of Barrack Obama is so strong that a number of prominent Republicans have said they’d vote for Hillary Clinton in 2012 if the Democrats nominated her.  A number of Democrats have expressed similar sentiments. That’s one hell of a bargaining chip and very real political threat. Politics at that level are brutal and cutthroat and utterly ruthless.  The Bush administration sacrificed a national hero for no less – and as a result Colin Powell will never, ever hold public office again let alone be President. President Clinton did the same thing, so did Reagan, and so did a lot of administrations all the way back to George Washington.  It is the nature of politics, it is how the game is played.   Hell, it might have been done with Hillary Clinton’s willing participation – and that too is how the game is played.  Time will tell, the proof will be whether or not she is cashiered the same way Powell was, or whether she is rewarded by the Democratic party and the White House somewhere down the road.

On the other hand, what if somebody in Congress set this ball in motion?  Prominent and powerful Republican members of Congress have sworn to bring the President down by any means necessary. They see it as their patriotic duty.  They see it as saving the country from socialism, or communism, or fascism, or liberalism, or all of the above.  If informants and spies and diplomats are sacrificed along the way, so be it.  Republican leadership has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice the pawns in order to place their opponents in check and there’s no reason to suppose they’d show restraint here. The same folks, Rove et al, are still pulling the same strings they did when they threw Valerie Plame under the bus.  Would they do it to take both Obama and Clinton out of the 2012 equation? Would they risk prison?  See, the President is the ultimate declassification authority, he could authorize the release of these documents by executive order, retroactively if necessary, but for a member of Congress or the GOP Leadership to do so would be treason. In time of war. We used to hang people for that. Would they take that risk?  And if they were behind it, why then haven’t they been making more of it?

Would the White House orchestrate something like this? Would the Administration’s enemies?  Even to speculate out loud makes me sound like those goofs who think George W. Bush blew up the World Trade Center with a nuclear bomb or those loons who think FDR let the Japanese attack the fleet at Pearl Harbor.  But here’s the thing, the release of this information has not harmed the United States – In point of fact, just the opposite is true and that is very, very peculiar indeed.

 

What does this information actually show?

 

First: This release of information shows what we all suspected, Iran is a threat and everybody knows it, including the rest of the Muslim Middle East. Following the disastrous intelligence failure that led to the Iraqi invasion, it was impossible to get international public consensus regarding Iran, especially among Arab States.  Islamic governments simply could not be seen, in front of Muslims, to agree with the United States and worse yet, Israel. In public. Privately, of course, they are as concerned about the those crazy bastards as we are.  Privately they stand with Israel. Hell, Egypt just offered, and Israel accepted, firefighting assistance to battle the blaze threatening Haifa. This is unprecedented.  Imagine how damned frustrating that must be for the diplomats, for the White House, for Congress, for our allies – hell, for the Arab leaders who really, really want us to knock the Ayatollahs on their pointy asses but can’t say so out loud because we screwed up Iraq so damned badly.

It’s out in the open now.

Iran damned well knows, now, that even their neighbors and fellow Muslims are arrayed against them.

The Muslim world knows that it is in their best interest to stand with Israel, at least on the question of Iran, and secretly they’ve been saying so all along.

That is an extremely powerful diplomatic lever, if placed upon the correct fulcrum. 

It makes me wonder if perhaps it was Clinton who pulled the strings on this information dump after all.  She is an exceptionally shrewd and intelligent individual who has labored largely in the background these last two years.  If true, it’s a masterful implementation of information warfare and potentially a diplomatic coup of the first magnitude. The way we’ll know, depends on what the White House and State Department do with the opportunity in the next two years. But, it would also fit the agenda of the warhawks on the Right, especially those pushing for war with Iran.  Again time will tell.  Watch and see, if after the new Congress is seated, there are calls for military intervention in Iran you’ll know where this leak came from. However, no matter the source or intention, both sides could use this opportunity to definitely pull Iran’s fangs for a long, long time – but they’ll have to work together. Frankly, I’m not holding my breath.

 

Second: This release shows that our intelligence is correct.  So far, the released documents directly support what our diplomats have been telling us.  The leaked cables go a long, long way towards restoring credibility in the US State Department and its assessment of the world situation – something sorely lacking since the intelligence and diplomatic failures that led to 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq.  Americans have been gradually losing faith in their government’s intelligence assessment since the Bay of Pigs. Now, it is unlikely that this release will do much to restore the American public’s faith in their government – hating the government while professing to love the country has become quite fashionable of late, especially on the right –  but it will go a long way towards restoring both our allies’ confidence in our assessment of the world political situation and that of our adversaries, such as Russia and China and maybe even Iran itself.  Not publically, mind you, but privately, within the circles of power where it counts most.

But then again, if the information coming to light doesn’t exactly restore Joe America’s faith in his Uncle Sam, it does speak directly to his bias. It’s odd, isn’t it? That the leaked diplomatic cables show the world exactly as most Americans perceive it to be? The French leaders are weak and cowardly and queer. The English are stiff and old fashioned. The Russians are comic book characters. The Chinese are cunning and inscrutable. The Iranians are evil and unpredictable and dangerous.  The North Koreans are insane.  Not surprising, this is what our leaders have been telling us for years, but damned peculiar that the cables, so far, show that and only that, i.e. the cables show that our government has been telling us the truth and other governments have been lying to their people (especially when it comes to Iran).  This, of course, could be deliberate depending on the nature of the leak, or it could be an artifact of perception on the part of the diplomats writing the cables, it could an artifact of selective release of information by WikiLeaks, or it could be an honest and accurate assessment of the situation in question. History will tell us eventually.

 

Third: This release shows just how damned hard it is to suppress information once it reaches the public domain.  One man, a handful hackers, and a website have become ghosts in the machine.  The information moves from server to server, distributed across the network, independent of borders and politics and power.  The most powerful nations in the world cannot shut it down, not for long anyway.  Kill WikiLeaks and it pops up somewhere else, under a different name, on a different server.  Nuke it from orbit, and from the smoking wreckage a hundred Phoenixes will rise. The information is out there now, it will be free.

Shutting down WikiLeaks is an exercise in futility.  Anybody who knows even the minimum about the Internet understands that.  WikiLeaks was only a convenient portal, a million more exist or will exist at any given moment. Killing Napster didn’t eradicate music downloads, hell, it very likely stimulated the development of distributed file sharing.  Napster itself has gone the way of Altavista, but the change in information flow and distribution it started is alive and well and growing at an exponential rate.  Information cannot be suppressed, it can be hounded, it can be hunted, it can be forbidden and made illegal, but it will be free.

With that said, if I wanted to see how my countermeasures worked in the real world, if I wanted to see how my adversaries’ countermeasures worked, this is one hell of a target of opportunity.  And just so you understand what I’m saying here, this applies to hackers, WikiLeaks, and those who sell information as well as some nefarious plot spawned in the basement of NSA. I would very much like to know who the hackers behind the DDoS attacks on the WikiLeaks servers work for.  I would very much like to know who in our government pressured Amazon into dumping WikiLeaks from their servers and by what authority that was done.  If I were truly a conspiracy nut, I would have to wonder if those who really created and operate WikiLeaks didn’t do this deliberately in order to draw those countermeasures out into the open, sacrificing a throwaway site and the patsy Julian Assange – before they set up their real operation.  Who is “they?” Beats me, if I was a real conspiracy nut, I’d say it was the Jews or the Masons or Illuminati or the Bilderbergs or space aliens terminators from the future. 

Or maybe it was organized by Tom Clancy, this would make a hell of a plot line for a spy novel.

 

I’ve postulated a number of things here in this post, none of which are more than wild speculation without a shred of proof.

It’s fun to think about it, fun to think like a conspiracy nut, but likely this release of information was simply the result of a cowardly, disgruntled, self-aggrandizing lone-gunman.  Frankly, I seriously doubt my government is organized enough to pull off some grand conspiracy.


But, as I said, the situation is interesting.

Very.

 


12/5/2010 Update:

Question: Didn’t the leak originate with US Army Spc Bradley Manning?

Answer: Unlikely.  Manning was a low level army technician (detailed here).  He released video from Army Apache attack helicopters, the type of thing he would have access to as a low level analyst in theater.

 

Question: Yeah but he had a security clearance and access to SIPRNET

Answer: There’s a big difference between security clearance and access.  Clearance determines a basic level of trust. Access to information is granted on a “need to know basis.”  For example, just because you have a Top Secret Special Compartmented Intelligence clearance which is required for your job analyzing, say, Chinese nuclear submarine capability, you don’t automatically get access to classified CIA Predator drone video of Taliban on the Pakistan border.  Both pieces of information are classified to the same level, but your job doesn’t require you to have access to the Taliban stuff.  Same here, SIPRNET is for the most part identical to the Internet, but the two are not connected.  SIPRNET contains Secret level information. Like the internet, much of the data there is accessible to all, but much of it is also controlled behind password/CAC card (an electronic security ID used by military and government workers) access – just like the internet.  There is a SIPRNET State Department front end that anybody on the net can access, but behind that is a CAC controlled firewall/gateway that grants access to State Department SIPRNET Intranet.  You don’t have the right access, you don’t get access.

 

Question: Yeah, but Manning tried to give 260,000 classified documents to Wikileaks. This leak is about 260,000 documents. Coincidence?

Answer: Yes.  Manning attempted to pass 260K docs to WikiLeaks editor Adrian Lamo.  Lamo supposedly refused and turned Manning into the FBI. Supposedly the documents were never transferred.

 

Question: Yeah, but the document count is the same.

Answer: Yeah, that’s roughly how many averaged sized PDF files fit on an 8GB thumb drive.  

 

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but based on the information available (which is assuredly of questionable veracity) , this leak and Manning are likely unrelated.


12/5/20 Update 2:

I have been corrected. Apparently the leaked information was widely available on SIPRNET and not protected behind a firewall. Which means Pfc Manning would have had access to it.

The popular press is attributing Manning as the source of the documents.   Certainly possible, though that directly refutes Adrian Lamo’s story and makes him a repeat offender, hacking and stolen information wise.  The question is, why are we hunting Julian Assange instead of Adrian Lamo? (that’s a rhetorical question, don’t bother to answer).

Manning may be nothing more than a convenient scapegoat. Or not.

But, as I said in the comments, here’s the real question: If indeed, Manning is the source of the documents, what then was his point? 

He supposedly released gun camera video purporting to show the US engaged in war crimes.  This is basically his entirely defense, I saw evidence of war crimes, I could not report them to my superiors because they were part of the criminal activity, I didn’t know what else to do, I couldn’t live with it, so I gave it to the public domain.   The recently released cables absolutely do not support Manning’s defense. Just the opposite.  The released cables directly refute Manning’s supposed justification.  So again, what was his point? 

Now, Manning doesn’t appear to be particularly bright, so this may simply be a case of abject stupidity, hoist on his own petard so to speak.  But on the face of it, you’d expect more gun camera video, or the type of information he was tasked with reviewing – not boring old diplomatic cables. 

Of course, we haven’t seen all the information yet.  Could be the stuff I’m talking about is there. 

 

Bottom line: Release of this particular information makes little sense from the standpoint of a disgruntled individual.  It makes a lot of sense if it’s coming from the government itself.   On the other hand, there is no hard and fast rule (or even a soft and squishy one) that says it does have to make sense from Manning’s standpoint.  He could just be an idiot. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fixing the US Economy, A Modest Business Plan.

“If I ran my business the way the government runs this country, why, I’d be out of business!”

How many times have you heard that declaration?

Once a week? Once a day? Pretty often lately anyway. 

I hear it on the street. I hear it in casual conversation.  I hear Senators-elect saying it.  I hear it from small business people. I hear it from drunken slobs at parties.  Your business? Really, Mr. Trump? I’m surprised to see you around here. Down in the gutter with us riff raff, I mean.

If I ran my business the way the government runs this country, I’d be out of business.

You hear it so often that a lot of folks have come to believe it. They’ve started to think that statement actually means something. It doesn’t. In fact, it’s a stupid idea. Hell, most businesses don’t run the way people mean when they make that statement.  If you ran your business like the government runs the country, well, sure, of course you’d be out of business –  because if you ran your business like a government, especially ours, you’d have to be a complete imbecile.

Run a business like government?

What kind of business?

The good ones are usually run like dictatorships, widely hated but often very profitable – until the inevitable weak-chinned grandson inherits the organization anyway. The mediocre ones bear a distinct resemblance to socialism, they tend to modest profits, they’re rarely innovators but nobody cares because they offer healthcare and benefits, they have a lot of office parties and at least all the employees are reasonably happy.  And the bad ones look a lot like the old Soviet Union, run by a corrupt bunch of dour incompetents, producing shoddy products built by a sullen slovenly workforce, no toilet paper in the restrooms and about one layoff from revolution. 

Businesses aren’t democracies.

And they’re sure not republics.

Honestly, take a minute and think about it. The closest “business” to a republic would be a Mafia run protection racket – or, if you squint your eyes, an insurance company, which is basically the same thing only more dangerous and obnoxious.

 

But what if government was like a company?

 

What if America really was a business?

What if President Obama decided to take the clamoring politicos, pollsters, pundits, protesters, and Palins up on their advice?  Yes, what if we decided to run America like a business? I mean, they turned GM around, right? They turned Apple around, made it profitable again. Why couldn’t we do the same thing with the United States? The country is full of unemployed MBA’s, I say let’s put those people to work. Get a business plan together, find some investors, infringe on a couple of patents, bribe a few officials. Business. That’s what I’m talking about here. 

You want to fix the economy? Easy, we borrow money from Third World countries and just don’t pay it back. Seriously what are they going to do about it?

What? That’s not really a business plan?  Well, obviously somebody hasn’t been paying attention.  Fine, we’ll call that Plan B.

Seriously, you want to run America like a business? Here’s how we do it:

Branding

No no no, not branding, Branding. I’m not talking about using a red hot iron to sear letters into flesh, that’s further down in the plan (look under the section labeled Guaranteeing Citizen Employee Loyalty). No, what I’m talking about is national Branding. I’m talking about the American Brand. I see people wearing those little Red White and Blue Flag pins all of the time, and they’ve got those Old Glory magnets on their bumpers. I see companies using the image of Uncle Sam, and George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to sell products made in China. Last night on the news there were a bunch of angry people burning the President in effigy.  Seriously, these people are pirating America. They’re using images of America, our America, without paying a cent. Here in Alaska, there’s some outfit that dresses up a kid like the Statue of Liberty and has him stand out on the corner waving a sign for tax return preparation.  Do they pay royalties to America for that?  Hell no they don’t.  That’s exactly like stealing from the Treasury. Coca Cola wouldn’t put up with that kind of crap, they protect their brand. Hell, so does Toy-R-Us.  Why shouldn’t America LLC?  Make Harlan Ellison Attorney General and turn the mean son of a bitch loose, that’s what I’m saying.  Watch the money start flowing in. 

Get rid of the deadwood.

How did GM become profitable again? They sold off underperforming business units and closed outdated factories.  They pared the company down to fighting trim and got rid of the flab that was dragging them back. If we’re going to run America as a business, as a business folks, we need to take heed. It’s time to make some hard choices. For example:  What’s Mississippi done for us lately?  Seriously?  They’re dead last in education. Dead last in science and technology. Dead last in industry and production and tax revenue.  They lead the country in welfare and obesity and they have got shit for natural resources unless you need alligators and humidity. They suck. They dragging us down. Mississippi is nothing but an albatross around our necks and they’re a pain in the ass to spell. Honestly, how many damned ess’s does one state need? They’re a letter hog.  I say, fuck ‘em.  Who’d we buy that shithole from in the first place? The stinking French? Do we still have the receipt? Maybe we can get a refund. Somebody check and see what Mexico would offer us. We do this right and we’ll get rid of a whole bunch of unemployed assholes too.  Who else? How about Guam? What the hell do they do for us? We’ve got one Hawaii, do we really need two? The Virgin Islands? Trust me, folks, that name is nothing but a gimmick cooked up by Marketing.  I’ve been there, they don’t have any virgins.  Connecticut? Do we really need both a North and South Carolina? Can we really afford a North and South Dakota? Not when you’re undercapitalized, folks. And I think we could sell off West Virginia, don’t you? Hell, we’ll throw it in free to whomever buys Texas.

Monetize Waste.

A while back, here in Alaska, there was a guy who stepped into a pile of moose manure and saw dollars.  Yes, you read that right. He stuck a swizzle stick into a turd, dipped that baby in varnish, and started selling them to tourists.  And thus was the billion dollar Moose Nugget industry born. This guy figured out how to literally turn shit into money.  Genius. Today, he’s a gazillionaire who drives around in a customized 24k gold plated Hummer shaped like a moose pellet. True story. That’s what we need here.  We need to stop throwing money away.  What the hell am I talking about? Secrets, of course. Secrets. We just throw them away. Example: some jackass in the State Department just gave a whole boatload of government secrets to Wikileaks for free. For free, folks. Back your truck up to the loading dock and you can haul away as much of this crap as you can carry. We’ve got tons of this shit. But, Jim, I hear you say in that quizzical tone you use when I’m talking about complex economics that are way over your heads, government secrets have always been free, that’s why we have unnamed sources who are not authorized to talk to the press.  Sure, that’s okay when it’s just a Watergate Scandal here and an Iran Contra Affair there. I hear what you’re saying. But you need to stop living in the past. Of course National Secrets couldn’t be recycled profitably back then. But by leveraging evolving technology we can now turn those worthless secrets into a valuable commodity instead of throwing it away like those restaurants that pour their fryer grease down the storm drain instead of selling it as synthetic human blood substitute.  We’ve got centuries of secrets, folks, centuries.  If we charged for them, why we could pay off the debt in no time and maybe even turn a tidy profit. Shit into money folks, genius.

Focus on Core Business.

What do we do best? What is our core product? What do we Americans do better than anybody else? When people think of America, what do they think of?  That’s right, war. Big fucking stormin’ the beach war.  Nobody does it like us.  Let’s focus on that.  Wait, I hear you say, we’re as confused as Sarah Palin when it comes to which one is the good Korea.  War? War isn’t profitable. Well no, not the way we’ve been doing it. Of course not.  We’ve been doing war the way Enron sold energy, which come to think of it was pretty damned profitable for a while, until it wasn’t. Again, you need to think about running government like a real business.  No, no, hear me out.  What’s one of the most successful businesses in the country? Hell, in the world? Who are the most successful business people you know? Right! Drug dealers! How do they do it? Free samples.  That’s it exactly. They give you a free sample and next thing you know, you’re hooked. Then they’ve got themselves a lifetime customer.  That’s brand loyalty right there. That’s good marketing. That’s where the whole “extended warranty” idea came from.  See what we do is offer the invasion part of war for free.  Yep. We’ll invade your country, topple your dictator, destroy your infrastructure, for nothing. Won’t cost you a penny. Hell, this week we’ll even throw in a bonus Predator strike guaranteed to barbeque an entire wedding party, absolutely gratis.  But, see, here’s the cool part: we charge for the extras.  That’s right. Now, after the invasion, would you like order restored?  Not a problem, that’ll be $20 Billion. Per month. Too steep? Well, maybe we can impose martial law in just your capital. I’ll have to talk to my boss, but I think with a trade-in we can do $2 Billion, and $500 million for each additional city up to five.  Yes, that’s right, folks, we pro-rate war.  Who’s turning shit into money now?   Want us to prop up your inept interim government? Make your brother-in-law Minister of Finance? Provide humanitarian aid?  Let’s talk about a payment plan. You know we offer easy financing to qualified buyers, how are your oil reserves looking? Now, have you thought long term? We offer an entire range of options from our Friend of America Basic Corrupt Despot all the way up to our Gold Star Premium Full Western Style Democracy Package.  Which one is right for you? Here take one of our brochures.

Brilliant, I know. Make sure they spell my name right on the Nobel Prize.

What? You there, speak up? What’s your problem? What if they won’t pay after we invade them? Business 101, Folks. A good business plan includes Enterprise Risk Management.  That’s the problem with our current form of government, no backup plan if things go pear shaped. What if they don’t pay? Well, then they’re not return customers are they?  How then, do we recoup our venture capital? One word, pillage.  Worked for Bank of America.

Optimize Efficiencies.

Soylent Green. Feed the homeless to the hungry. Talk about doubling your efficiency, there’s really no downside to this. Well, OK, those pudgy homeless Wall Street executives are a little high in cholesterol, but that’s really about it.

Seek New Revenue Streams.

Cap & Trade. Seriously. It’s brilliant. Now, I know a lot of you hate the idea of Cap & Trade but that’s because you don’t understand business.  See most people are convinced that Cap & Trade is a typical liberal tree-hugging anti-business idea, right? Wrong. Carbon dioxide? Folks we’re talking about an invisible colorless, odorless gas. My God, it’s the perfect product. What? You want to pay us to reduce invisible gas emissions? Sure. Done. When do we see the check? What? What did we do with it? We, uh, sequestered it this Ionized Revitalizing Water! Soothes wrinkles and eliminates embarrassing flatulence. $19.95. But wait! There’s more.  Order now and we’ll not only send you a second bottle absolutely free, we’ll also send you this Magnetized Copper Blood Alignment Bracelet made from genuine recycled environmental carbon! Every one of these you buy, a polar bear gets its wings! Pick up the phone now, for the Earth!

Hidden Fees. No, no! Put down those pitchforks! I’m not talking about sticking it to those poor, poor millionaires who have born an unreasonable percentage of this economic downturn. Of course not, they’ve suffered enough.  No, I’m talking about people who don’t know any better. I’m talking about fleecing the suckers.  I’m talking about stupid people.  Look here, hidden fees are just good business. Stupid people suck up more than their fair share of our resources.  They’re like that guy at the Golden Coral who keeps going back for more – those gluttonous pricks are literally eating into our profit margin. Stupid people have all kinds of money and it just makes good business sense to get a piece of that. How? Well, we could tax them.  Of course you’d have to call it something else, say like a lottery, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  How did the big airlines make themselves profitable?  Baggage fees! $25 for the first checked bag, $35 for the second, $45 for the third, etc. And people pay it. Sure they bitch, but they pay and pay and pay.  What the hell am I talking about? Kid Fees, $25 for the first one, $35 for the second, and so on. Stupid people often have a lot of kids.  Oh, now don’t go getting all pissy, you know it’s true. They even have books for them, Parenting For the Complete Idiot. I mean who did you think was buying those?  Frankly I think there are way too many idiots having kids nowadays and if we’ve got to put up with their screaming carpet monkeys we ought to be clearing some profit, it just stands to reason. Really want to stimulate business? Have Obama casually mention “gun control.”  Every Redneck, Revolutionary, Gun Nut, Lug Nut, and Wing Nut will be out spending their last dime at the local Guns and Ammo. Call it trickle up economics, that huge surge of moola will power our economy well into the 21st Century.

 

Well, there you have it.

If somebody has a better plan, I’d sure like to hear it.

Frankly, I’m not holding my breath.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Socialist

Back when I was in elementary school, the recent American holiday, Thanksgiving, was a whole lot simpler.

In those days, in the 60’s, American school kids dressed up in paper hats – black “construction” paper taped in a cylinder with a yellow paper buckle on the front for the Pilgrims, and paper crowns with a dozen or so colored paper feathers taped to it for the Native Americans (who, back then, were called “Indians”).  We cut out paper pumpkins and turkeys made by tracing around a widespread hand and decorated the classroom with them.  Our textbooks had pictures of happy natives and colonists, smiling earnestly over trestle tables laden with “indian” corn, roasted stuffed turkeys, fresh warm loaves of bread, hot apple pies with tent-like crusts, cranberry sauce, big heaping bowls of mashed potatoes, and baked yellow acorn squash smothered in brown sugar and butter.  Apple cider was the drink of choice, filling the tankards of Pilgrims and natives alike. In those days, it was OK to show pictures of weapons to school kids, bell muzzled blunderbusses for the Europeans and bow, arrow, and spear for the red skinned folks.  We made maps of Plymouth Colony, which I pictured as being near a beach and a big black rock – you know, the place where Christopher Columbus landed … or something. It was all a little confusing and the details weren’t particularly clear.  All we knew was that we would get four days off from school and end up somewhere with lots of noisy cousins and old people who smelled of tobacco products and eggnog. There would be exotic food like Mandarin orange Jell-O mold and black olives. And, of course, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in some magical place called Oz or New York or something.  And, of course, Thanksgiving meant that Christmas was only a month away.

That’s the Thanksgiving image a lot of my generation grew up with.  Same with the generations before us.

That image is ingrained in our collective American psyche.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, it’s all bullshit.

Or sort of anyway.

That myth, that image of the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving, is true only in the broadest of strokes.  It’s been embellished more than a bit in the telling, and the embarrassing and depressing parts have been edited out over the four centuries since that feast on the shores of the New World.

There were a number of harvest celebrations that could be labeled “the first Thanksgiving,” a couple of which pre-dated that iconic Pilgrim meal.  But it’s that one, that celebration at Plymouth Colony in 1621 that became the symbol of America.  Nowadays most Americans would rather believe in an idealized grade school myth instead of the real story. This is unfortunate, because the real story is far more interesting.  The myth doesn’t mention that those colonists didn’t actually call themselves Pilgrims, nor did they wear those funny black clothes very often despite the fact that they were were a bunch of religious extremists – and that they weren’t, in point of fact, actually “Americans.”  The myth often doesn’t mention just how woefully unprepared they were as colonists. They were products of an old European agricultural society, more isolated than most even in their homeland of England, and later their adopted homeland of The Netherlands, due to their religious beliefs.  And in reality, they knew as much about breaking new ground in a new land, establishing a colony whole cloth, as you and I do today - i.e. nothing.  They couldn’t Google the new world, instead they depended on incomplete descriptions and third hand accounts from explorers – much of which turned out to be wrong. The first thing they did in the new world was to disturb native gravesites and steal corn stored there, and when they encountered their first live “Indians” they fired upon them.  Fearing that they screwed up, both by shooting at the natives and by landing in the wrong place, they returned to the Mayflower and moved on down the coast to what would become Plymouth.  Because they’d fooled around, arguing and bickering and generally being disorganized and scared shitless, they didn’t arrive at Plymouth until the end of December, 1620, on the 21st to be precise. 

December. 

December, in Massachusetts. Not what you could call the best timing.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the Massachusetts coast in December, but it’s not exactly the Riviera.  I used to live on the New England coast, winters are about as much fun there as they are here in Alaska. Most Americas don’t seem to understand this.  Allow me to illustrate, the pictures of that landing often look like this:

image

But, in reality it looked a lot more like this:

image

Try to imagine it with the cold gray waters of the Atlantic whipped to a froth by frigid winds.  The temperature would have been below freezing with plenty of snow and sleet. The ground was frozen, the forest long barren, the skies dark and stormy.  Spring was more than four months away.  The coast is some of the roughest water in the world, with some of the most treacherous winter weather – it’s legendary among sailors today, sailors who navigate that coast with the greatest of caution and the best instruments our technology can produce. Four hundred years ago, that dark coastline would have been as forbidding as  those terrible Bible passages William Bradford, the  Pilgrim leader, was fond of quoting.

Is it winter where you are? Do you live in a far northern clime?

Step outside. Visit the nearest woods, the trees are bare, the ground covered in snow, the animals are in hibernation.  See anything to eat? How long do you think you’d survive in that woods, in winter, with only the bare minimum of 17th Century technology at your disposal and no knowledge of the local plants or animals? (Yes, I know, you folks in California are now standing outside in your flipflops staring at the avocado trees and wondering what the hell I’m talking about. Winter? What’s the big deal? Oh, as long as I’m out here, I guess I’ll pick some fresh limes for my Mojito. Never mind, just read on and take my word for it).

For the colonists, there were no prefab shelters. No electric heaters. No polar fleece underwear or Gortex jackets or Thinsulate gloves.  There were no thermoses of hot coffee or those instant hand warmers or flashlights at night or even toilet paper (paper was far too expensive and precious to wipe your ass on, and would be until the early part of the 20th Century). The colonists’ clothing wasn’t moisture shedding waterproof synthetics, but sodden lice infested raw wool which couldn’t be washed because there was no hot water and no way to dry the stuff even if they’d had spare duds to wear while waiting.   In fact, their clothing and tools were designed for the mild European climate and not the harsh conditions of the New England coast in winter.  There were no roads in the unfamiliar virgin wilderness, no food, no familiar plants, and little or no edible wildlife in that winter landscape.  Most of what they ate came from their provisions onboard the Mayflower. We’re not talking canned goods here, those were two centuries away. No the colonists’ provision were salted fish, dried and smoked meats, grain mush, and pickled vegetables.  The kind of thing you need to drink a lot of water with. But even getting water was difficult, there were no wells and the colonists weren’t going to dig any in that frozen ground, the lakes and rivers were frozen.  Water came from snow that first winter, melted over fires, but here’s the kicker:  there wasn’t even decent firewood, only the unseasoned green timber and winterfall they could gather with the tools they had – every frozen log cut by primitive saws and split by hand. They were malnourished and dehydrated and freezing and working in conditions that required thousands more calories per day than they were getting.  They intended to build a dozen common buildings and nineteen homes. They managed four common buildings and seven houses after four months of backbreaking labor.  Inside those tiny buildings, the environment was less than ideal, cold, fetid and damp, no plumbing, no sanitation, dirt floors, crowded and smelling of too much unwashed humanity and their beasts in far too little space.  In that environment, relatively minor injuries – and there would have been plenty – became life threatening.  Cuts and scrapes and bruises that would have healed quickly among well fed, rested, and healthy people, didn’t heal at all, instead those wounds often became infected and deadly. Their teeth fell out, their gums and noses bled, they became weak and nauseated, their bones ached and their joints flamed with pain, their kidneys began to shut down – all symptoms of pervasive vitamin C deficiency, or what sailors of the time called Scurvy.   They weren’t getting fresh fruit and Vitamin C in pill form was still many hundreds of years in the future. Scurvy causes foul flatulence and severe diarrhea – which required frequent trips to the outhouse in subzero temperatures. Scurvy also makes it hard to think, makes it hard to reason and concentrate, and it causes extremely emotional irritation and make it very difficult to get along with others. And, of course, there were other vitamin deficiencies, Vitamin D for example, and germs and bacteria and parasites that those European immune systems had never been exposed to.

Try to imagine the hell inside those cabins.

It didn’t take long for the bodies to start piling up – and in fact, people started dying before the colonists ever left the Mayflower. During that first winter forty-three of the original one hundred and two colonists died.  By the time they’d managed to clear a few fields and plant some crops for the next winter, only fifty-three people were left. By the time they got to the harvest there were only four adult women alive.  For those of you not good at math, that’s a mortality rate far in excess of present day Somalia.

Now, despite those smiling pictures we were shown as kids, I strongly suspect that the situation affected the colonists’ morale in a powerfully negative manner.

Imagine what it must have been like for those who survived the winter, family dead, the survivors starving, sick, isolated, watching the Mayflower sail away leaving them stranded and alone on the dark shore of a hostile and alien land.  One suspects that more than a few of the survivors were damned well wishing they were headed back to England with the ship when she left in April.  They’d been in the new world less than half a year, and already more than half of them were dead.

I would hazard to guess that despair was a common emotion, come that spring in 1621.

We’ll come back to that.

Something to note: when Mayflower sailed for England that spring, she was supposed to be carrying the first payment from the colonists to their sponsors.  What? Oh, you thought the colonists paid for their trip themselves? You thought those dirt  poor farmers raised the enormous amount of cash necessary to hire a ship for a year (two ships actually, the Mayflower and the Speedwell – if you’ve never heard of the Speedwell that’s because it didn’t make the voyage, being a leaking unseaworthy piece of crap by one account or deliberately sabotaged by its crew to avoid the dangerous journey according to others).  You thought they bought all those supplies and equipment and a patent of colonization from the King out of their own pockets? You think the church paid for it?

Ha.

You make me snort my beer through my nose.

The colony was financed by an organization of businessmen called Merchant Adventures, who oddly enough, expected to make a profit on their investment.  The colonists were supposed to make payments in furs and hides and metals and other unique things from the New World.  Mayflower was supposed to bring that first payment in furs and hides back on that first return to England.  Needless to say, she didn’t.

However, during the following summer things started to look up. 

The colonists encountered natives on a regular basis and those meetings were reasonably peaceful.  Among others, they met a native American named Squanto, who became their friend and advocate among the native peoples.  Pretty generous for a guy who should have hated the Europeans. Squanto had been kidnapped by the English explorer Thomas Hunt years before and ended up as a slave to Spanish monks for five years in Europe (remember in grade school when they told you how Squanto went to England so he could learn English and be civilized?). Eventually he returned to New England as a slave in the role of native guide for Captain Robert Georges.  The local tribes killed Gorges and his crew after several hostile encounters, and they freed Squanto and took him in. And, in fact, the local natives, the Wampanoag under the leadership of a chief named Massasoit, were quite familiar with European explorers. They’d had numerous encounters prior to the arrival of the colonists, almost all bad.  It was remarkable that the weakened colonists weren’t slaughtered outright, led by Squanto himself. Instead, the Wampanoag, despite their apprehension, cautiously befriended the aliens. During the summer they taught the Europeans about maize, corn not being a familiar food crop in Europe at the time, and about other edible local flora and fauna. Corn was significant. It grew well in the climate and short growing season, it required comparatively little effort on the part of the planter, it’s yield was high, it was fit for both man and beast, and most importantly it could be dried and stored easily.  With the summer warmth, food, water, shelter, and local alliances, the colonist’s situation began to get better. So did their health. As the mortality rate fell, their spirits improved.  As their health and morale improved, so did their productivity. When they gave thanks for a successful, if modest, harvest at the end of that first year their odds of surviving the coming winter had been greatly improved. The event we Americans think of as the first thanksgiving was well documented: the colonist intended a day of prayer and a feast, they invited Massasoit as courtesy, not really expecting him to show up.  But show up he did, and he brought about 90 of his men with him. The colonists were leery of so many indian warriors in their midst, about double the number of surviving colonists, and the Wampanoag were just as cautious in the middle of the strange alien settlement.  The colonists provided fish and lobster and ducks and a few turkeys, the Wampanoag brought five deer. In Europe, deer were a protected species belonging to the royals, venison probably went a long way towards making the colonists feel friendly towards Massasoit and his men. However, there were no loaves of fresh bread or pies, the colonists had used up all their flour by then – not to mention that no apple trees actually yet grew in North America, so much for the cider as well. Sigh. Instead they drank a thick flat and bitter beer.  Mashed potatoes also were not at that first Thanksgiving as Europeans tended to regard the potato plant as poisonous – it is a member of the Deadly Nightshade family after all and back then before centuries of selective breeding, it often was poisonous. There was no cranberry sauce either, and no sugar to sweeten the tart berries anyway. Those wild turkeys would have been lean and tough birds, very unlike the fat domesticated Butterballs you get cleaned, dressed, and conveniently frozen from the supermarket today.

The celebration lasted three days. 

Over the next two years, additional supplies and colonists arrived from Europe and the settlement became a going concern.  They were able to pay down their debt to Merchant Adventures, despite a number of setbacks. Most of those payments consisted of high quality fur, obtained by the colonists from the Native Americans – they never did find any native gold to send back. Morale improved and there was another big celebration in July of 1623 – which was much closer to what we think of as Thanksgiving here in America, by then there were a couple of pies and fresh bread. Still no potatoes though.

Unfortunately, as the colonists’ situation improved, their relations with the native Americans worsened – until eventually a de facto state of war existed.  This situation choked off trade with the natives and the colonists once again fell behind on their payments to Merchant Adventures, which caused them a number of problems with their creditors.

But over time the colony expanded into a permanent settlement, new colonists arrived, industries were established and the population swelled. Eventually, around 1690, the Plymouth Colony was annexed into the much larger Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Historians have made entire careers out of studying just those few decades of our past. Entire courses of study, entire museums, scholarly works, books, and archeological digs have been dedicated to examination of those events. And despite the fact that the real story is both far more, and in some ways far less, heroic than our mythology, we do have a very good understanding of what happened in the early years of Plymouth Colony and the events that led to the first so-called Thanksgiving.

No matter the minor details, one thing is quite certain – without the native Americans, those colonists would most likely have not survived, or at least their odds of survival would have been greatly diminished. Without the native Americans in the early years, it is very likely that Plymouth would have been abandoned like other similar settlements in the new world.  If, instead of bringing friendship and venison, Massasoit and his Wampanoag had showed up in that horrible winter of 1621 and slaughtered the colonists, history would tell a very different story.  History is often achieved by consensus, it often changes as new facts and interpretations come to light – but the one thing all historians agreed on is that Plymouth Colony owed a debt of gratitude to the Native Americans they encountered in those first terrible years.

Well, according to most historians anyway.

See, according to historical expert, Rush Limbaugh, that story too is no more real than the myth we were told about Thanksgiving as elementary school kids.

According to Limbaugh, the real reason the colonists were in such desperate straits originally was because…wait for it…wait for it… because they were socialists! 

Yes, the Pilgrims were socialists. 

See they all had agreed to bear the burden of the colony’s debt to Merchant Adventures equally.  They all agreed to work toward repayment of that debt as a group, before their own interests – and, folks, nothing says socialism like putting the success and very survival of your lazy parasitic friends and family ahead of your own self. Boy Howdy.  We all win, or we all lose – that’s the philosophy of socialists, right there.  And once Rush pointed it out, well, you have to wonder how all those historians missed it.  Four hundred years we’ve studied this period in our history, and only Rush was smart enough to figure out that it was the curse of socialism what laid the Plymouth Colony low. 

Limbaugh was, of course, responding to President Obama’s Thanksgiving address to the nation. He took exception when Obama said:

“This spirit brought together the newly arrived Pilgrims and the Wampanoag, who had been living and thriving around Plymouth for thousands of years.”

Predictably, Rush was outraged:

"So, we were the invaders. The Indians were minding their own business. We were incompetent idiots. We didn't know how to feed ourselves so they came along and showed us how and that's what Thanksgiving is all about."

Well, yes, actually the colonists were invaders. And the Native Americans were minding their own business before the Europeans showed up. And the colonists were actually unprepared for the new world. And the Native Americans did, by the colonists’ own account, show the settlers how to feed themselves. And yes, that is at least partially what Thanksgiving is all about, because you know, you’d have to be a complete and total ass not to thank somebody for helping you out when you’re down on your luck – and in point of fact, that’s the one part of the real story that actually showed through that sanitized elementary school myth even after four hundred years of erasing native Americans from our history. But, I digress.

Quibble: Limbaugh’s use of the word “we.”  Nothing shows a greater manufactured outrage than use of the word “we.”  We? Are we about to find out that Limbaugh’s ancestor, Rysh Lympballs Standish, was a member of the Plymouth Colony? Somehow I have a difficult time imagining Rush Limbaugh being accepted into the Puritan congregation or the Plymouth Colony, he is the very epitome of the things they were attempting to leave behind.  We? We? Hell, the colonists weren’t even Americans, they were EnglishmenAmerica itself wouldn’t exist for another century and a half. We? Where’s the “we?” 

There’s a logical fallacy in there somewhere, I just know it.

Another Quibble:  Why are the Plymouth colonists “we” and modern day immigrants filthy Mexican invaders?  I admit to confusion here, Limbaugh logic makes my brain feel all soggy and hard to light.  But, again I digress.

Limbaugh went on to say:

"The true story of Thanksgiving is how socialism failed, the Indians didn't teach us capitalism. We shared our bounty with them… because we first failed as socialists."

Everybody got that?

No?

Rush explains how the original colony went wrong:

"All of the land they cleared and the houses they built belong to the community as well. They were going to distribute it equally. Nobody owned anything. They just had a share in it. It was a commune, folks. It was the forerunner to the communes we saw in the '60s and '70s out in California – and it was complete with organic vegetables, by the way.”

"That's right. Long before Karl Marx was even born, the Pilgrims had discovered and experimented with what could only be described as socialism. And what happened? “

“It didn't work! Surprise, surprise, huh?”

I bet you didn’t see Karl Marx coming when we started talking about Pilgrims, did you?   Also, organic vegetables are apparently socialist, who knew?

The solution?

Every family was assigned its own plot of land to work and permitted to market its own crops and products. And what was the result?

America! America was the result! Yay! Victory for capitalism, down with socialism!  Success wasn’t assured through sissy communist cooperation and mutual support (well, except that part were they were “assigned” a plot of land and “permitted” to market their own crops, which come to think of it sounds an awful lot like the private plots on those old Soviet Collective farms. But, again, I digress, as is my tendency), nor through peaceful interaction with the natives (who, of course, were actually stealing our land before “we” even got here, the red skinned bastards), nor was success a product of improving morale and health and diet and the arrival of more colonists and supplies. Oh hell, no. Success came because the colonists threw off the shackles of socialism and embraced good old fashioned conservative Tea Party capitalism.

How do we know that Rush’s version of history is the correct one? Well, like any good historian, Rush supplies us with references:

“[T]he real story of Thanksgiving as written by me in my book, See, I Told You So!"

Yes, that’s correct, Rush Limbaugh’s reference, the proof of his version of history, is … Rush Limbaugh. Rush actually referenced himself. He does that a lot actually. I said it, therefore it must be true. Bitches.

Rush goes on, in his Thanksgiving show, to explain that the real reason people are starving in Afghanistan and Africa is not because of a lack of actual fucking food, but rather a lack of capitalism.  The people there don’t work, they’d rather starve, because socialism has ruined their work ethic – just as it did with the Pilgrims. 

The problem with the world is not too few resources. The problem with the world is an insufficient distribution of capitalism.

Yes. Insufficient capitalism is the problem in Somalia - if only there were less people there who were hell bent on seeing all treated equally, why everybody would have enough to eat.  Runaway liberal warlords in Angola, the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and down the Cote d’Ivoire, fueled by unbridled socialists in Europe and the United States, hacked off the arms of those who wouldn’t give themselves into slavery, raped their wives, and turned their children into soldiers to support the Blood Diamond trade, oh if only there had been sufficient capitalism such things would never have happened!  In lands rich in resources but poor in people, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Venezuela, it’s an insufficiency of capitalism that keeps the population in poverty and the socialists in the million dollar mansions with the marble floors and solid gold toilets.  Even here in the United States, it’s socialism that keeps millions in poverty and on the verge of hunger – all poor people are socialists, that’s why they’re poor. Quod erat demonstrandum.

It’s so obvious when Rush explains history, isn’t it?

Which, inevitably brings us to the title of this post.

Rush Limbaugh, socialist?

Oh yes.  Yes he is.  It’s obvious. Just like those conservatives who yell the loudest about the sin of homosexuality, and eventually get outted as repressed gays themselves, Rush Limbaugh bellows at length about the evils of socialism – and yet, in his heart, in the only place that matters, he is a secret socialist.

Yes, Rush Limbaugh is a closeted socialist.

Allow me to demonstrate:

Despite a lack of formal education or experience in the specialty in question, Rush Limbaugh declares himself a historian.  An expert in American history.  Rush knows what motived those long dead colonists.  He can see into their very minds.  He has no formal education, certification, or experience in the field of economics, politics, psychology, sociology, government, or even cold weather survival, yet he declares himself an expert in every area.  In fact, according to Rush Limbaugh, Rush Limbaugh is a true polymath, an expert in nearly every facet of human endeavor. Why, he even provides references.

Rush Limbaugh demands that his version of history be given the same weight, if not more, than those of accredited specialists, experts, and degreed historians.

This mindset is an extension of the Creationist worldview, i.e “who really knows what happened back then?”  therefore “my ‘theory’ is just as good as yours,” besides “common sense” and common belief trump actual research and accreditation and validation and correction and decades of experience and expertise every time.

Limbaugh and those of his ilk are the same folks who condemn, florid of face and strident in voice, the socialism of “political correctness”  - and yet they are the first to demand equal respect for their unproven and often ridiculous nonsense without any better support than the kind of “references”given by Rush Limbaugh above.

This is type of thinking - that all views must be given equal merit in the eyes of the world, no matter how unsupported or provably false - is the purest expression of socialism

It is socialism of ideas.

It is socialism of the mind.

Rush Limbaugh is a socialist.  Q.E.D.

 

But wait! As they say, there’s more!

Take socialism far enough, and you end up with communism

Now, I’m not saying Limbaugh is a communist per se, but there are some alarming signs:

- Hatred of gays? Check.  That was pretty big on the old Soviet agenda.

- Incorporation of politics into every single goddamned facet of every goddamned thing – including Thanksgiving?  Check. E.g. according to communist doctrine, the Red Army didn’t defeat the Nazis during the battle of Stalingrad because they outnumbered the Germans, or because they were better prepared to survive the Russian winter, or because the Nazis were at the end of a long and broken supply chain – no, the Soviets beat the fascists because they were good communists.  Note the similarity to to Rush’s version of history, the colonists were successful because they embraced a particular political philosophy. The lesson of history, according to Rush, is to choose the proper political ideology. Back in my Intelligence Officer days I read a number of very similar screeds in Pravda and Red Star, Rush would have loved those, he could have written them.

- A penchant for changing history to support the current political situation and to edit out those who have fallen out of favor? Check. One suspects that in Rush’s Amerika, Squanto would be photoshopped out of those grade school textbooks, like in the old CCCP when the people who pissed off Stalin were blotted out of official photographs.

- Vilification of ethnic populations deemed savage or of a lesser humanity? Eradication of their language, customs, and contribution to history? Check.  One wonders when Rush will begin referring to white Anglo Americans as “Great Americans” … oh, wait. Never mind.

- The tendency to seek ever more money, power, and wealth on the back of the poor, gullible, and deluded? Check.

- The predictable and vitriolic paranoid reaction to anything and everything the American president says? Even something as innocuous as a Holiday greeting? Check.

 

No, I’m not saying Rush Limbaugh is a communist.

Not yet.

Thankfully.