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Friday, October 26, 2012

Guns and Butter. Also, Nazis!

Jim is currently lost somewhere in the Panhandle of Florida.  It’s 90 degrees and the sun is blazing. He has been repeatedly informed that it’s “winter” here and that his shorts and T-shirt and unending references to sweat-soaked heatstroke are offending the sensibilities of the shivering natives who shuffle about bundled up like Nepalese Sherpas  on the snowy flanks of Mount Everest.  


 

I am indeed a stranger in a strange land.

As I mentioned previously here and on various social networking sites, I’m travelling for the next few weeks and observing the human condition from this altered perspective.

At the moment, I'm deep in the deepest of the Deep South, lost somewhere in the moldering alligator infested swamps of the Florida Panhandle, teetering on the line between feverish reality and Alabama.

This is a place where they grow cotton and peanuts and rich golden fields of raging xenophobic paranoia.  People hereabouts know Jesus personally and have him over for dinner on a regular basis.  Imminent invasion by Red Communists is entirely possible and could happen at any time, though I suspect that any such intrusion would be rapidly stymied by large loud women in very tight pants waving cigarettes around like florid Jedi slashing about with light-sabers, the preponderance of giant flying cockroaches (them’s palmetto bugs, Sugar!), and this area’s secret weapon, “bolled” peanuts – which, if I was forced to speculate on the flavor of Satan’s fromunda cheese, I would use as a reference taste note.

They don’t take to strangers or Yankees or Alaskans, whom they view with the same distrust and suspicion as the aforementioned red communist horde.

The people hereabouts don’t seem much bothered by the strange and perplexing cognitive dissonance of life in the Panhandle.

For example:

My wife sent me to the gas station to pick up a newspaper for my father in law.

The store was a tiny ramshackle affair slowly decaying beneath a massive load of moss and vines. It was surrounded by the jetsam of decades, not quite a junkyard and not quite anything else either. There was a snarling three-legged red-boned hound on the sagging porch and a woman of indeterminate age and pedigree behind the cluttered counter.  She looked at me, a stranger and obvious outsider, suspiciously but called me “sweetie” anyway – which as I learned later, means absolutely nothing, she calls everybody sweetie and would have addressed me as such even if she decided to put me down with the shotgun she keeps under the counter. 

On the customer side of the counter was, well, a cliché.

He was in his 70's or so, grizzled and worn and none too clean.  Rough woolen pants and a shirt the color of dirt and sweat that was likely made during the Eisenhower administration hung on him like wash on a line. He sported a pair of suspenders and knee-high well-worn leather boots. His ragged gray beard snaked below his waist and a shapeless floppy leather hat that looked like it might have been stitched together from various road-killed varmints perched forlornly on his head – least I be accused of stereotyping the prototypical Panhandle denizen, note that if you replaced the sun cured tobacco in his roll-your-own cigarette with greenhouse grown weed, he’d be indistinguishable from any of a dozen characters you’re liable to meet on the streets of my own Alaskan town. But I digress.

My entry had obviously interrupted a conversation – probably about the pending invasion by Red Communist Cannibal Death Nazis of Death.

They looked at me. I looked at them. Time passed. I began to suspect they thought I was the vanguard of the coming invasion.

Turns out that the newspapers were kept behind the counter and you have to ask for one.

I did – and then out of reflex, I pulled out my debit card.

Oops.

Now, I eventually paid cash, just to be sociable and to prove I really wasn’t a red communist death Nazi cannibal from the dark side of the moon.  And, funny thing, it turns out they did actually accept Visa, but only after the old guy who looked like a refugee from a ZZ Top concert explained how he doesn't hold with that credit card stuff because "y'all know them gobermin can foller y'all and that Obomer's CIA snoops thru y'all's bidness to fin out whatcher'all doin'."

Despite having travelled in these parts before and knowing better, I cracked wise and replied that if the CIA had nothing better to do than track my reading habits, well, I’d lead them on a merry chase.

I don’t think they were in a joking mood.

After explaining Obama's secret plan to read our minds via the CIA’s newspaper data mining, ZZ Top shuffled out on the porch while I got my change.

When I left, he smiled knowingly and waved like he was swatting at a fly. 

He was talking to somebody on a shiny brand new Android smart phone apparently oblivious to the astounding irony.

Despite the fact that this area is one of the poorest in the nation, awash in poverty and lack of opportunity, they are nearly one and all conservatives (of course, there are exceptions, but they are a lonely few), firmly convinced that their enduring misery would be lifted if there was only more Jesus in the government and the schools and less black people in the White House. 

The less they have, the more firmly they are convinced that the Obama is coming to take it away.

Fox News blares like an air raid siren from nearly every TV in the area, bleating red tinged panic twenty-four hours a day – seriously, I’ve been forced to listen to Fox for a week, the screen flashes continuously in the colors of panic with the word “alert” scrolling across the bottom in an endless loop, the talking heads scream about Obama in a unending flow of hysterical panic, punctuated only by commercials from equally crazed SuperPACs warning about the end of America.  When they don’t have anything else to show, they run footage from Benghazi on a continuous loop filling the screen with flames and smoke and terrorism. If you watch Fox News, you might think that the attack on our embassy in Libya was pretty much the only thing that’s happened in the entire world in the last month, hell, you might be given the impression that it’s happening right now.

I was walking out of the Pace Home Depot and a man in the parking lot was screaming angrily into his phone:

I don’t care if they come in an hour early and leave an hour early! I don’t care if they take a couple of breaks during the day! But you make sure they understand that just because I’m flexible with the work hours I ain’t running no damned liberal shop!

Local business owners complain bitterly about having to “pay for socialism,” i.e. Obamacare, and how they built their own business.

image

The advertising company behind this message specializes in this particular sign. They’re all over the area, each with a different local business owner. What those businesses spend on these signs in a month would pay the ACA tax for their employees’ healthcare insurance for a year (And yes, never mind the fact that President Obama didn’t actually say these people didn’t build their own business, which is readily obvious if you watch his speech in context. But truth means nothing in the face of hysteria and panic). 

They claim they’re going broke because of Obama, but they’ve got the money to waste on signs like this.

Yes, again with the irony.

Speaking of signs, there are plenty of signs filled with dire warnings about Angry Jesus and his imminent return, they sit in yards and church lots next to Romney/Ryan banners, warning of hell and damnation and homosexuals. 

The intersection leading to Whiting Field is papered with posters that say “Keep America Free, Fire Obama!”

On the other hand, the only Obama/Biden signs I saw were stacked in a pile behind the Florida Democratic Party tables at the state fair.  The table was hidden away behind rows of religious booths offering salvation and threatening damnation, behind people hawking insurance and storm windows. The lonely man behind the table seemed grateful for my attention – and the fact that I was from the far north and not a confrontational local come to make obnoxious comments and threats – which I gather happens frequently. When I asked him how business was, he sighed and said that he suspected that those who picked up an Obama sign were mostly putting them in the middle of their neighbor’s yard at night, just to piss people off.

I watched the debate at the Milton, Florida, VFW. 

Or rather I watched the patrons of the bar watching the debate.

Through clouds of cigarette smoke and the miasma of cheep light beer, one thing became apparent: patriotism depends on the size of your American flag lapel pin and the color of your tie.   The bar patrons spent long minutes on both, with some calling Romney’s much larger flag pin proof of his superior patriotism and others seeing it as the sin of Pride. Despite a profound disinterest in anything outside of their tiny little hamlet, the rednecks hollering from the end of the bar were one and all self-declared experts on embassy security, Syria, and how many 1960’s era ships it took to defend America from Vietnam (Answer, a lot, like maybe a bazillion, or a thousand, or five hundred or something).

Funny thing, they hated Obama – that was obvious right from moment I walked in, but they apparently hated Romney just as much.  From the comments, I’d guess they’ll spend election day clustered in same place they were during the debate, drinking and smoking and complaining bitterly about everything. 

See, if they don’t vote they can bitch about the government in equal measure no matter who wins the upcoming election.

What?

Why was I in the Milton VFW in the first place? Well, I’m a member of the National VFW organization and I was meeting some folks and that was a convenient location.

A day later I sat in a local restaurant, the two old gentlemen in the booth behind me were talking desultorily:

Guy 1: You watch the debate?
Guy 2: Naw. But I heard Romney sure put that spade in his place.
Guy 1: I didn’t watch it either, but y’all got to wonder about a president who hates the military like that.
Guy 2: Yaw, he sure hates the United States. They all do you know. They hate this country. They hate us. And I don’t know how we’re supposed to win all the wars without a navy.
Guy 1: I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that. He’s getting’ rid of the navy. We’re gonna be down to maybe fifty ships if that Romney feller don’t win.
Guy 2: I heard Obama didn’t even know we still use bayonets.
Guy 1: And this guy is deciding how many ships we have? Sad. He’s got no respect.
Guy 2: Yay, the Russians will jus walk in here and take over without no navy to stop ‘em. Stupid damned Obama. He don’t know nutin’
Guy 1: Well, sir, I tell you, them Russian ain’t gonna take my land without a fight.
Guy 2: Amen to that, Brother…

I guess the fact that it’s Congress who decides how many ships the navy has escaped these two geniuses. 

The navy asks for a certain number of ships over a certain amount of time, Congress typically funds anywhere from half to two-thirds of that list, and adds in bunch of stuff the Navy neither needs nor wants but makes the voters happy.  It takes years, decades even, to design, purchase, and complete shipbuilding programs.

It’s the same with all large weapons programs, from ships to stealth bombers to tanks.

And as the President said, it’s not the numbers, it’s the capabilities.

A single B-2 bomber today equals hundreds, sometimes thousands, of World War Two B-29s.

A single Arleigh Burke class Aegis Destroyer is equal to an entire squadron of Vietnam era cruisers and destroyers, and then some.

A single platoon of M1A2 Abrams Main Battle tanks with OTHT drone support could have destroyed Patton’s entire 3rd Army before they even knew it was there.

A single soldier today is far, far more effective than an entire World War One platoon.

This isn’t a secret. Anybody who watches The Military Channel would know it. Anybody who paid attention over the last ten years would know.  Anybody with a decent grasp of military technology and knowledgeable advisors would know this.

But that’s the thing with these people. To them it’s not the lead in the pencil, it’s the size of the pencil itself.

If only it were that simple.

 

If it was up to me, I’d load the guns with grapeshot made from Panhandle boiled peanuts.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Traveling and Open Thread

Jim is currently lost somewhere in the Panhandle of Florida. Remember those classic 1950’s science fiction pulp stories from the likes of Heinlein and Bradbury that featured Venus as a sweltering fetid swamp filled with giant bugs, huge lizards, and hostile incomprehensible natives? Yeah, it’s a lot like that.


 

I’m currently traveling – despite the best efforts to the contrary by the airlines.

As such, posting here on Stonekettle Station will likely be even more sporadic than usual.

Be patient, this trip is chock a block with blogging material, from the almost unbelievable shittiness of American Airlines to the fact that I’ll be watching tonight’s presidential debate on Fox News from deep within enemy territory surrounded by frothy hardline patriotic Obama Haters.

In the meantime, you may consider this an open thread, talk among yourselves about whatever you like. Sing. Tell a funny story involving a monkey, a hooker, and a can of Crisco. Ask the questions closest to your hearts, I might even answer. Promote your favorite laxative. Boggle at the panicked red, white, and blue shenanigans of Fox News (speaking of a monkey, a hooker, and copious amounts of lard). 

Remember the rules, be polite, be civil, I may be stranded in redneck ‘country surrounded by hungry alligators and large toothless girls in very small pants, but I’m still able to access the internet via the miracle of alien space magic.

Behave or I’ll unleash the laser powered death badgers of death.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Promises, Promises

"...I think Governor Romney's going to have a busy first day..."

President Obama drew laughs from the audience with that quip during the first Obama/Romney presidential debate.

Unfortunately, the President then failed to aggressively follow up on the opportunity opened by that lead and didn’t press Romney for details while he had the audience laughing.

And Obama really should have.

Because it’s important.

President Obama was referring to the laundry list of items Mitt Romney has promised to achieve on the first day of his (as yet, theoretical) presidency. In particular the president was making light of the fact that Romney has said repeatedly that he will immediately repeal all of the things democrats have managed to achieve in the four years of the Obama Administration despite the active and vehement opposition of certain members of Congress

And then, on that same day, Mitt Romney will sit down and work hand in hand with those same democrats.

And conservatives made fun of Obama for daring to use the word “hope.” 

Repeal everything democrats worked for, then work with those same democrats?

You’ll excuse me if I maybe roll my eyes a little in disbelieving skepticism at this point.

I guess it could work though.

Depending on Romney’s approach I mean.  Presumably, when (if) President Romney sits down with Congress, it won’t be to seek common ground, rather it’ll be to dictate terms.

Because I don’t see Romney getting Democratic cooperation any other way.

Given his manner and the nature of the promises he’s made, I strongly suspect that Mitt Romney sees the Oval Office more as CEO of America Inc. and the election as some kind of stock buyout or hostile takeover, rather than as a democratically elected President whose power is constrained by reality.

Take Romney’s first-day-in-office promise to get started on fixing the economy and create jobs.

One of the first things Romney has promised to do is to submit a jobs package to Congress.

Romney’s proposed jobs package contains five bills: 1) Reduce the corporate income tax to twenty five percent, 2) reinstate Fast Track (sometimes called The President’s Trade Promotion Authority), 3) open more land for drilling, 4) end federal programs and return responsibility to the states, and 5) cut non-security discretionary spending in the federal budget by five percent.

Romney’s promised jobs bill comes with a command that Congress act on these ideas within thirty days.

Thirty days.

He will command Congress to act within a month on his bills.

Command.

Heh heh. Right.

Or what?

What will CEO Mitt do if Congress doesn’t take up those bills within a month?

Government isn’t like Wall Street, Mitt, what are you going to do? Fire ‘em?

Might want to check with the union, or the Constitution, first.

What will he do if Congress stonewalls and delays and filibusters and doesn’t cooperate? Say like how Congress did with Obama’s promise to close Gitmo on his first day in office. Will Conservatives then hold President Romney responsible for failing to live up to his promises? Like they did with Obama and Gitmo? Or Obama’s own proposed jobs bill? Or Obama and … well, you get the idea.

Or will Conservatives (and Liberals Goddamnit) put the blame where it belongs this time?

Yeah, I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Here’s the thing, President Obama was just talking about something simple, like a prison and a couple of neutered terrorists.

Romney wants to cut corporate taxes, i.e. federal revenues.

Do you really think congress will be able to complete an impact analysis for loss of revenue in a month?

We don’t even have a federal budget at the moment, and won’t until at least March. Think about how cutting corporate taxes might affect the already enormously complex and delinquent and gridlocked budget planning process – something Paul Ryan is supposed to be working on right now. And just for added fun, Romney says he’ll cut non-military discretionary spending too.

I’d be real interested in seeing all of this put to bed in thirty days.

Especially if we end up with sequestration too – you know, just because Congress hasn’t failed enough these last four years.

Hell, I’d be impressed if Romney could get congress to complete a draft budget in thirty days, because that would be some serious mojo indeed.

Next, Romney wants the president to have the power to negotiate treaties.

That’s what Fast Track is. Fast Track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority or TPA, allows the president to directly negotiate trade agreements with foreign powers, agreements that Congress can then approve or disapprove but cannot modify, delay, or filibuster – literally, by law there are very specific (and short!) limitations on the amount of time the bill can be in committee, the amount of time the bill can be debated on the floor, and when the final vote has to be returned. This isn’t a new idea, TPA was in effect from 1975 to 1994 and then between 2002 and 2007 – for some reason Congress didn’t want Bill Clinton to have this power, but felt fine with Reagan, Bush Senior, and Bush Junior making trade deals with Mexico and China and India, but I digress. Obama asked for renewal of the TPA in 2012 to complete the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP) agreement. Predictably he was stonewalled.

Romney can’t just “reinstate” the TPA, he has to ask Congress for it, and the request would have to be placed on the agenda, debated by both House and Senate, and voted on.

Question, why would you give Romney TPA but not Obama? Unless it’s for strictly partisan reasons? But, again, I digress, since apparently the majority of Americans seem to be fine with this double standard.

But the real question is this: what does Romney want with TPA? Why make it an election item? Who is driving this and who is this promise for?

You might want to think about that. 

No, you all might want to really think about that.

Americans should maybe ask Romney about his intentions with regards to TPA.

Again, it’s important.

Did you ever wonder how you ended up with all those free trade agreements? The ones that shipped all of your jobs overseas and made it easy for companies to off-shore themselves and avoid paying certain taxes? Did you ever wonder how that business environment that so benefits strategic capital firms at the expense of domestic industry came about?

Did you ever wonder how come the shelves at Wal-Mart are filled with cheap goods made in other countries?

TPA, that’s how.

Now, you want to give a guy who pals around with corporate CEOs (to paraphrase a turn of phrase from the last election cycle) the power to negotiate treaties with countries who specialize in off-shoring American jobs?

Really?

As I said, you might want to think about that. You might want to think about who that benefits, because it damned sure isn’t you.

Americans would do well to start asking a few questions in this regard. I’m just saying. Of course, it won’t happen, we’re more interested in keeping gay people away from marriage and in other people’s reproductive systems. And yes, I’m cynically digressing.

Speaking of good paying American jobs, another promise Mitt Romney has made for his first day in office is to start the process of repealing the Davis-Bacon Act.

Now, surely you’re familiar with Davis-Bacon.

No?

Davis-Bacon (the DBA) is a federal law passed in 1931 that requires the payment of prevailing wages on any public works project. What does that mean? It means that the government must pay laborers on state and federal construction projects no less than the average wage and benefits that are standard for the locality.  In other words, the government can’t bring in cheap outside labor to build roads and bridges, national parks and monuments, federal buildings, military construction, and so on. This law came about because back during the Great Depression, Senator James Davis and Representative Robert Bacon watched state governments hire dirt cheap labor from the impoverished South to build public works projects in New York and other northern states, this was done so that the government didn’t have to pay local labor at the much more expensive prevailing wage for the area.

Now, it’s likely that the Davis-Bacon Act wasn’t passed out of any sense of fairness or actual concern for the working man, Davis and Bacon were concerned that the pork barrel spending they’d fought for wasn’t creating the promised jobs in their districts (Pennsylvania and New York respectively), and thereby translating into the corresponding votes those jobs would bring. Instead the project managers were importing cheap African-American labor from south of the Mason-Dixon Line (mostly from dirt poor Alabama) to the detriment of white New Yorkers.

Modern republican critics of the law cite the possible racist intent of the original act as a reason to abolish it. There’s more than a touch of irony in that both Davis and Bacon were Republicans.

Whatever their intent, Davis-Bacon protects fair wages and benefits for federal workers against predatory labor practices that would use cheap imported labor (of any ethnicity, including illegal immigrants) to underbid local businesses and contractors.

Repeal of Davis-Bacon might make public works projects cheaper, but it would be at the expense of local business and labor.

But then again, cheaper public works.

That’s a good thing, right?

Wrong. Repeal of Davis-Bacon would clear the way for creation of new national companies that specialize in public works using cheap migrant labor. Repeal of Davis-Bacon might create jobs, but they aren’t the kind of jobs you’d want or the kind that benefit the local community.

Repeal of Davis-Bacon could have the opposite effect as well, since the law prevents cronyism and the hiring of outsiders at the expense of local companies (at least on governmental projects), repeal might end up costing you more both in local jobs and in tax money.

We’ve got some experience with that here in Alaska, whenever Exxon talks about how they’ll create “Alaskan” jobs if we just give them another tax break, what they actually mean is jobs in Alaska for shitkickers from Texas and Oklahoma – now imagine if you coupled federal money to that. 

You might want to give that a little thought too.  Again, you might want to think about who a repeal would benefit, because again, it sure isn’t you – unless you’re the kind of person who has dinner with the Koch Brothers.

And, of course, Mitt Romney has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

So, to recap, Mitt has promised to cut corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy – and yet somehow reduce the deficit and debt. He wants the power to forge personal trade deals with the countries he outsourced your jobs to. He wants to repeal wage and benefit protection for workers on government projects and legalize the creation of cheap imported labor for public works. He’s also promised to approve the final two phases of the Keystone XL Pipeline without completed environmental impact studies and without validated emergency response measures (because, hey, how often does this stuff blow up anyway? Right? Hello?), more drilling (despite the fact that the Obama Administration has approved more drilling permits than any previous administration, that’s obviously not enough), repeal of environmental protections deemed “restrictive” (methane and fracking chemicals in your water supply is a small price to pay for increased profits folks. Bitching about it is unpatriotic. Besides, we can always buy water from China), and then cut discretionary funding for agencies that actually oversee the environment, safety, and public health – i.e. the things directly impacted by the other stuff. And to top it off, he’ll make sure that once you are sick and out of work, you can’t get affordable healthcare either (because people who don’t have health insurance don’t die in America. Right?).

The good news is that President Romney has also promised to reinstate the Mexico-City Policy on his first day, so you know, we won’t be funding abortions south of the border.

Still think having a CEO running the country is a good idea?

So far, none of this has come up in the debates. Want to bet that any of it will come up in the final debate?

Yeah, me neither.

As I’ve said previously, debates are a lousy way to pick our leaders.

 

Oh the other hand, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

After all, how often does somebody like Mitt Romney actually keep his promises to people like us?

I mean really?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Inertia

 

As I’ve said previously, I don’t have much use for political debates.

I think that debates are worse than useless.

I think that they’re dangerous.

I think that in general, the majority of the herd allows themselves to be easily manipulated and easily led and that they don’t give their own politics or ideology any actual thought whatsoever. Far too often their positions are based on inertia. Many people belong to a particular political party for the same reason they root for a particular sports team, or belong to a particular religion for that matter,  i.e. they were born into it and therefore it’s the best, it’s the only right way to believe, and everybody else is wrong. Period.

I know a number of folks who belong to religions that they completely disagree with.  I have variations of this conversation all of the time:

Me: You believe women have the right to choose?
Him: Yes.
Me: You believe that gay people should have the right to marry?
Him: Dude, WTF? I am gay. As you know, I’ve been in a committed relationship for twenty years, goddamn right I think I ought to be able to get hitched.
Me: You believe in evolution, right?
Him: Hello, biology teacher here.
Me: So why are you a Catholic again?
Him: Well, uh, see…
Me: You don’t agree with anything your religion preaches. Nothing.  You are emphatically not welcome in your own place of worship. You can’t even go to church on Sunday as yourself and sit in a pew and hold hands with the person you love for fear of being thrown out. Right?
Him: Ok, look, uh, see what you don’t understand is, um, well…  Ok, you know what? Fuck you.

I know a number of folks who belong to political parties that they completely disagree with. I have variations of this conversation all of the time:

Me: You believe women have the right to choose?
Her: Yes.  I don’t like abortion and I would never have one myself, but I believe women should choose for themselves.
Me: You believe gay people should have the right to marry?
Her: I don’t see what that has to do with me. I don’t care what they do.
Me: You believe in evolution? Global climate change?
Her: It’s pretty hard to ignore the evidence. Yes.
Me: You think we should go to war with Iran?
Her: I think we’ve had enough war. We should find a different solution.
Me: You still in the Union?
Her: What do you have against unions? Unions built America. As a woman, it’s the only way I’m getting a decent paycheck and retirement and maybe a promotion.
Me: So then you think you’re lesser than men? That you should be subordinate to men? That you should make less money than men for doing the same job? That you should be barefoot and pregnant and more ladylike?
Her: Fuck you, Buddy.
Me: And why are you a republican again?
Her: Because liberals are baby eating communists who hate America. Also, Nazis.

And so on.

I know folks who vehemently disagree with every single plank in the GOP platform, and yet they will only vote Republican. Period. They can’t even conceive of voting for somebody who isn’t a conservative. I don’t understand this.  It’s like Slaves Against the Cotton Gin or PETA for More Animal Experimentation or …well, Log Cabin Republicans.

For these folks, the labels are what matter. 

Even if it means voting repeatedly against their own interests.

It’s not the ideology. It’s not the beliefs. It’s not the messages. It’s the label.

They were born one thing or the other, their parents and grandparents were one thing or the other, and so that’s what they are.  Period. 

The labels are more important than the details.  It’s not an intellectual position, it’s an emotional one.  That’s why these people get so angry when the wrong labels are applied to them. That’s why they see labels as such an affront and why they hurl labels as insults.  Somebody calls you gay and you’re not – what the hell do you care? Really? So what? Somebody calls you a liberal or a conservative, and you’re not – again, what do you care?  Except, of course, a lot of people do care.  Furiously.  Check out any IMDB, 4-Chan, Wall Street Journal, or Yahoo! comments forum, hell, check out the troll who showed up on my previous post and called me a “socialist fuck.” I’ve been called everything here on Stonekettle Station, from “a Bush Republican” to gay to a Nazi.  I’m not insulted, I’m amused, because labels from anonymous haters that I don’t know just don’t mean shit to me.

But for a lot of people, labels are everything.

I suspect that debates primarily pander to the dumbed-down Reality TV mentality that has become so pervasive in recent American society. It is my considered opinion that debates pander to exactly this mentality. To the label makers and the label takers and the label throwers.

Political Debates are spectacle for the small minded.

And the problem with spectacle is that it’s designed to take the population’s focus off what really matters, it distracts from the real issues.

But it’s worse than that.

While spectacle can, and does, distract from the real issues, it can also cause the country as a whole to blunder off into completely new conflicts.  Conflicts that are not only utterly stupid and don’t make a damned bit of difference one way or the other, but also serve to further divide the country.  America is one of, if not the, strongest nation to ever exist.  No outside force can destroy it. But like Rome, like the British Empire, like the Soviet Union, it can crumble from the inside. Spectacle can distract the population from that course, but it can also add to it.

Take Thursday’s Vice Presidential debate.

Today there are the usual dog whistles and smoke screens.  Folks who loved Romney’s little smirk during last week’s debate, just couldn’t stand to see the same expression on Joe Biden’s face. Those that applauded Romney’s aggressiveness, denounced the same in Biden.  Those that chastised last week’s moderator for not interrupting and being more forceful, condemned Thursday’s moderator for interrupting and being forceful.  Bill O’Reilly said, “Joe Biden blew it!” Fox News said Biden’s parents might have taught him many things, but not manners – and yet when Obama was polite last week, both sides roundly condemned him for not being more blunt.  Fox’s website had a banner across their lead story on Friday that said, “Biden needs to grow up before he grows older” and Michelle Malkin called it “the return of Smirky Malarkey McSmirk.” – because that’s the kind of adult commentary conservatives like right there. 

These people couldn’t go after the substance of Biden’s message so they attacked his age and his parents and his expression. 

That’s about par for the course.

That’s the same rabble rousing and pandering to the stupid and the ignorant and the simpleminded haters we always see and by next week it’ll all be forgotten.

That’s bad enough, but what should concern you is this:  the theme that has emerged from the hair pulling and name calling and is now being considered with serious expressions by pundits and politicians across the nation is that the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya asked for more security, Obama and Biden were apparently oblivious and four Americans died including the Ambassador. Also, the White House lied about the situation – i.e. it was terrorism, not a riot.

That’s the message that emerged from Thursday night’s debate.

And that message is driving a wedge further into an already artificially divided country.

Show of hands, how many of you actually think that the President and Vice President personally review every request from every section under every department in the Executive Branch? C’mon, how many of you think that the president reviews each and every security plan, along with all the millions of other details necessary to run this nation and its interests here and abroad each and every day. Hell, how many of you think that even sounds like a good idea? Now don’t be shy, put your hands up if you think that.

Is that everybody?

You there, in the back with the drool on your chin and the confused look on your face, covered in cat hair and Pop Tart crumbs, you wanna put your hand up? Go ahead. It’s OK. Anybody else?

 

All of you with your hands in the air? Yeah, you people are fucking idiots.

 

Seriously. Put your hands down, you’re embarrassing yourselves and your stupidity is screwing up the country for the rest of us. Knock it off. People next to the people with their hands up? Smack your neighbor, hard, right in the ear.  Keep doing it until you’ve managed to pound some goddamned sense into these simpletons.

Let me explain a couple of things that should be obvious to everybody.

First, it is not possible for the president, no matter what his party or ability, to manage every detail of every unit of every division of every department of the United States of America.  It is just not possible.  Expecting him to do so is idiotic and demonstrates a bizarrely over simplified understanding of reality.  In fact, it is very likely that the United States has grown so large and so complicated that it is exceeding our ability to manage it in any useful fashion without some significant changes to the way we do things. But that’s a different essay.

The President doesn’t decide how many security guards an embassy has, he doesn’t review the watch schedule or the guard-post rotation or how many piss breaks the Marines are allotted in each shift. 

Who does that?

Well, typically it’s the Ambassador, delegated to his chief of security. They’re the people on the scene.  If the Ambassador thinks he needs a plus-up in the security force, he goes up the chain with it – to somewhere in the State Department.  It’s a process. It takes time. And it’s just one of many such requests working their way through the system And unless military intervention is indicated the President is very unlikely to see anything about it – other than maybe, maybe, as a minor bullet point buried in the dozens, if not hundreds, of reports he sees every single day.

Addendum:  something else I’d point out, increasing security isn’t free.  It costs money. A lot of money. Every additional security measure costs money. Every additional State Department guard, Marine, or local rent a cop requires a renegotiation of the host country agreement, approval by the State Department, and a dozen other clearances – most for very good reasons.  But mostly, it costs money, and that money is currently fixed, it’s tied up in a continuing resolution because our worthless shitty broken Congress has so far refused to do its goddamned job and pass a budget.  Even if Obama had personally authorized an increase in security, Congress would have to approve both the funding and the change in the Status of Forces and Embassy treaties.  You’ll note that neither party has mentioned this, in or out of the debate.

And security is only one of a thousand similar things that need attention, every single day.

Should somebody have done more to protect that embassy?

Well, yeah, obviously.

Should we have seen the threat coming?

Well, yeah, obviously, if only it was that easy.

Should the President have been briefed and made a command decision to bulk up security or withdraw the embassy staff?

Well, yeah, obviously, in a perfect world, of course he would have nothing to do but manage every detail personally.

In hindsight, sure, we should have done more.

Hindsight is like that – oh so blindingly obvious.

Which brings us to the second thing: military intelligence.

This is something I know a great deal about. I was a military intelligence specialist for more than twenty years and I worked in the Middle East and in and out of warzones all over the world.  I was a force protection officer. I know more than a little about threat assessment – and how in hindsight it’s just so, so obvious, especially to commenters on Yahoo and the Wall Street Journal and from the political party that doesn’t happen to be in the White House when the bubble goes up.

Everybody is an expert.

Everybody could have done better.

Except, of course, they aren’t and they didn’t.

Any idiot can predict the past, it’s the future that’s difficult.

If we had pulled out, these same “experts” would have seized on it as evidence of cowardice on the White House’s part, and don’t bother to tell me they wouldn’t have. Ditto if we hadn’t gone into Libya in the first place.  If we had put Marines on the ground, it would have been a waste of money, or an unauthorized invasion, or more heavy handed military action. Again, don’t bother to tell me otherwise, because that’s exactly what these same critics said. Go back and read the Fox News’ archives, you won’t have any trouble finding the criticism.

The simple unvarnished truth of the matter is that it’s goddamned difficult to predict the future.

It happens.  I don’t want to sound cavalier about it, but it happens.  We lose people. The world is a dangerous place. We in the intelligence community do everything we can to prevent it. If we’re successful, you never hear about it. You only see our failures.  And it happens, those failures. The world is just too complicated, there’s just too many moving parts, too much information and too many threats and it’s goddamned difficult.  And it happens. We lose people.  It happened to Jimmy Carter in Iran. It happened to Ronald Reagan in Beirut. It happened to George H. W. Bush right in front of CIA headquarters.  It happened to Bill Clinton a month after he took office in the first World Trade Center attack. It happened to George W. Bush on September 11th, 2001.  And it will happen to whoever comes after Barack Obama. That’s how it is.

Could we have done more?

Sure, but I don’t think you’re really willing to do what it takes, because you won’t like the society you end up living in – and it will still happen.

I find it ironic that the folks who are perfectly willing to accept a theater full of dead kids as just the price you pay for the right to bear arms and thus Freeeeedom! are the very same people who don’t seem to think that our kind of foreign policy is something that can be executed without human casualties. 

Of course, the argument today is that the White House lied about the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens, that the White House keeps changing its story and that Joe Biden and the State Department are advancing fundamentally different versions of the events.

Again, welcome to intelligence work.

Again, it’s complicated.

Again, It takes time to figure out what actually went down and when. 

There are dozens of conflicting reports and the people who were there are dead.  Hell, even in something as simple and common as a car accident, there are differing reports and differing interpretations and that’s the reason police investigators (and intelligence experts) hate eyewitnesses – because human beings are just about the most unreliable sources of information there is.  Throw politics into the mix and you might as well not even bother.

In the event that killed Ambassador Stevens, there were multiple assaults going on, against multiple American interests,  in multiple locations, all at the same time.  There appeared to be a common triggering event.  It’s human nature to string these things together.  Later it turned out that those events were unrelated.  But was several weeks of hard work on the Intel Community’s part before that became more than just a guess, before there was enough hard intelligence to prove it.

Again, I find it ironic that the people who reject climate change and evolution because they feel those things are “just theories,” are the very same people who were willing to immediately and wholeheartedly decide that the attack on our embassy was a terrorist event before there was any hard evidence whatsoever. As long as the event makes Obama look bad, well, we don’t need proof, right?  Then again… well, you know, creationism. But I digress.

There was enormous pressure to get the word out.  The same people who are condemning the White House now for initially reporting bad information seem to forget that they were the same people who were demanding immediate information during the attack, who condemned the White House for not speaking up sooner. 

Look, you can’t have it both ways, if you want instant answers, most of those answers are going to be wrong. 

If you want accurate information, you’re going to have to wait.

That’s just how it is. 

And when it turns out that you’re wrong, you can either man up and correct yourself or you can stand pat on bad information – say like continuing to insist on the existence of yellow cake uranium purchases by a certain dictator that never happened or his involvement in 911 that never happened or his vast stores of Weapons of Mass Destruction that didn’t exist. 

Again, you can’t have it both ways, either you want people in charge who are willing to admit error and provide correct information when it becomes available even if it contradicts previous information … or you want smoke blown up your ass.  Make up your goddamned mind.

The problem today is that the Vice Presidential debate did more than just distract us from the real issues.

The problem is that the debates set us to arguing over things that we cannot change.

The problem is that the debates continue to set us against each other and widen a divide that already cripples America.

The problem is this: debates are a piss poor way to choose our leaders.

But just like people who cling to a religion that they’ve long outgrown, I suspect that we’ll continue this farce for a long, long time to come.

 

Today people are arguing over who “lost” the debate.

The answer to that is easy: we did.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Also Nazis, Part 3

 

I know what you’re thinking.

What? Nazis again?

Oh Goddamn, Jim, not more stinkin’ Nazis. Haven’t we had enough Nazis around here?

Welcome to this week’s installment of when political lunacy puts on a Speedo and a leather jacket, straps on a pair of water-wings, and attempts a rocket powered jump over a tank full of great white sharks.

I’m thinking that Also Nazis will become a regular feature, at least for the duration of the election season. Or until actual cannibal death Nazis from the dark side of the moon show up in flying saucers shooting killer bees from giant laser cannons mounted on atomic powered velociraptors and led by the Robot Uber-Fuehrer with Adolf Hitler’s electrified zombie head in a jar of pickle juice mounted on top of its massive armored shoulders.  Whichever comes first.

Looking at the political divisions in America, I kept getting this weird sense of déjà vu.

It reminded me of something.

But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

Red faced hatred. Incoherent screaming. Obscene hand gestures. Bizarre irrational behavior. Brother against brother, American against American.

Hmmm.

And then, earlier this week it hit me.

In fact, it almost literally hit me.

I was on the Glenn Highway, headed home from Anchorage towards The Valley when a PT Cruiser blew past me – this is noteworthy in and of itself, since I generally drive a tad, just a tad mind you, above the speed limit myself.  This guy was moving like Rush Limbaugh headed towards a free all-donut buffet, swerving back and forth between lanes faster than Mitt Romney changes his position on abortion, and zig-zagging around other cars like Paul Ryan dodging questions on his budget plan.  As the little car zoomed up the slow lane at ninety plus miles an hour he closed in on an enormous Dodge RAM pick-up in the left lane. Predictably, the truck sped up in an effort to stay ahead of the little PT Cruiser.  The Cruiser wasn’t having any of that, and in a reckless suicidal maneuver the tiny car dove under the truck’s front bumper like a shiny midget kamikaze, missing the bigger vehicle by scant millimeters … and then slamming on its brakes to avoid collision with the minivan in front of the truck. 

Remember that scene in A Fish Called Wanda? When that giant granite block fell from ten stories up and landed smack on top of that little tiny dog (at the 3:19 mark)? Wump! Splosh! I was expecting something exactly like that. By rights, that PT Cruiser should have been flattened into road-kill beneath the giant truck. Honestly, each of the truck’s tires weighed more than that little bitty car.  But, somehow, in a cloud of blue smoke and squealing rubber, the truck driver managed to avoid smashing the car into a greasy bugsplat, and the vehicles behind him (Me, Goddamnit!) somehow also managed to avoid messy death by chain-reaction. 

It didn’t take the giant pair of dangling “Truck-Nutz” swinging from the RAM’s trailer-hitch to figure out what was going to happen next. 

Clouds of black diesel smoke erupted from the truck’s twin stacks as the driver slammed the gas pedal to the floor.  The truck driver’s massive rage was palpable despite the fact that he’d also been acting like an idiot in attempting to cut the other guy off.  He swerved onto the highway’s shoulder roaring past the PT Cruiser in a cloud of gravel and you could hear the howl of his monstrous off-road tires singing over the rumble-strip, it sounded like the thundering wings of avenging angels. The Cruiser actually sped up in an effort to prevent the truck from getting ahead but the RAM had the advantage of wrathful indignation and not only passed the Cruiser but he roared around the blocking minivan and triumphantly reassumed his position in the lead.

Then the truck slammed on his brakes.

I have no direct evidence, but I would assume that this was the point where the minivan driver began to regret his failure to plan ahead in the “Bring an extra pair of undershorts for the commute” department  (Me? I came prepared, I never wear skivvies during an election year. I like to be ready just in case I need to tell a politician to kiss my shiny metal ass).

After teaching those behind him not to screw with giant trucks, the RAM sped back up and pulled head of the minivan, who was likely distracted by the fact that in addition to his soiled panties he was probably also having a heart attack. Because, you know, Jesus H. Christ!

With complete disregard for the safety of anybody else on the road, the Cruiser dodged nimbly to the right, zipped around the minivan, and swerved back into the left lane inches ahead of the truck, cutting off the RAM yet again in an astounding display of testosterone fueled assholery. 

Those in the vicinity of these two homicidal jackasses (Me, Goddamnit!) variously braked or accelerated onto the shoulders out of the way like townsfolk scurrying for safety on the streets of Dodge City as two booze fueled gunslingers stumbled drunkenly from the saloon and set to cockfighting in the middle of Mainstreet.

I watched in horrified fascination as the huge truck and the tiny car jockeyed madly for position, it was like an enraged rhinoceros under attack by a blood maddened Chihuahua. They were swerving and braking and speeding around each other, you could see the drivers gesturing obscenely and screaming insults at each other oblivious to the danger, oblivious to the collateral damage, as they vied to prove who had the biggest willie like incensed mountain goats slamming their heads together over and over. Other drivers got involved, and the ripples of outrage spread like an infectious disease with a dozen cars ducking and dodging and weaving and screaming and blowing horns. They roared down the highway in a blood engorged mass at well over a hundred miles an hour and I lost sight of them as they sped across the Hay Flats headed towards Wasilla.  Once I no longer needed both hands on the wheel and traffic had settled down, I phoned the State Police.  Or tried to anyway, I couldn’t get a signal – the Hay Flats are kind of a desert when it comes to cell phone reception.  I got off at my exit and I’ve got no idea how it all worked out – doubtless the idiots got away with their insanity, going their own ways smug in their indignant manhood and seething righteousness, home to tell their wives about how some asshole did them wrong on the highway but by God they sure showed that fucker, yes they did, you bet.

And, as I said up above, that’s when it hit me.

That, right there, is exactly how most Americans approach politics.

Mindless red eyed Road Rage.

That’s exactly what it is, rage.

This mindset, this Political Rage, that seems to have infected much of America lately is exactly the same as the unthinking reflexive fury that far too many people display on the highways. For a lot of Americans, the only thing that matters is who has the biggest dick and damn the consequences, to hell with the danger, screw the utter stupidity of it all. 

In recent stump speeches Mitt Romney has been telling a story about how he once met Glen Doherty, the former US Navy SEAL turned State Department employee, who was killed along with Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya. 

Seems, Romney was apparently invited to a party that Doherty also attended, the two met, and Romney has mentioned it several times on the stump.

Big deal.

I see nothing particularly egregious about this, one way or the other.  Politicians (and bloggers for that matter, hello) use chance encounters and conversations and personal events to illustrate their viewpoints all of the time.  I’ve done it myself. In this essay.

However, Doherty’s mother, Barbara Doherty, an Obama supporter, asked that Romney stop using her son’s name. So Romney’s campaign immediately acquiesced and Mitt has since stopped using the anecdote. 

Again, despite the minor media furor, big deal.

Not long ago, I was asked to remove a post from Stonekettle Station about a Navy airplane crash I once witnessed, because those close to some of the men killed in that crash didn’t want the event used to illustrate the point I was attempting to make with the essay. Out of respect for their wishes, and because of some mistakes I’d made about the actual facts of the crash (I’m not an aviation guy, I got some things wrong. I should have known better than report as fact things I’d heard through the rumor mill), I agreed immediately and removed the post – even though I think it’s still one of the best things I’ve ever written.

For Mitt Romney to use his encounter with Glen Doherty to illustrate a political point does not make him an opportunistic asshole, it just makes him a guy who was trying to connect with people and events on a personal level, it makes him a politician just like every other politician that has ever lived.

Likewise, for Mrs. Doherty to ask that her son’s memory not be used to further a political agenda also doesn’t make her an asshole, even if she is an Obama supporter. Mrs. Doherty by any account has the right to ask for a little respect, she’s earned that courtesy. Her son bought her that right, and paid in full.

It’s a minor, very minor, news item that has zero impact on anybody other than the friends and family of Glen Doherty.

But, see, then there’s the Political Rage.

When the story appeared yesterday on ABC news, the comments under the article were bizarrely overblown. People, left and right, just plain lost their minds:

- What a disgusting human being Mitt Romney is. He will do or say ANYTHING to get elected.

- The Leftstream media is sure trying to take the heat off Ovomit.

- It is heartwarming to see that the trust placed in the administration that is indirectly responsible for the murder of her son is unwavering. I doubt she’ll get a form letter now.

- Sounds like the mother is the one using her son’s death for her political reasons—sour grapes –so to speak–she need to look at the fact –that extra security was requested and denied by the administration–which could have contributed to her son’s death–before defendind OObama –with what he knows about foreign policy –it could fit in a timble

- She needs to watch the hearings. It’s gut wrenching. They failed to protect her son and she says Romney is politicizing??? Wow!

- Apparently she is part of the 47%

- too many stupid comments from too many stupid romney fans, who will evidently say anything out there butt & think it’s whistling dixie.

- So the Obama hacks get snotty, HOW DARE Mitt USE HIS DEATH…Like OBAMA DID when he left those men, without backup there to die, when he crawled into bed, since he was so DAMNED CONCERNED .. MOM? Obama has LOST the military vote by 40 points… and the miserable;e low life democrat party hacks like that Heroes mom, can’t even let his name be mentioned, or his story told, because she hates republicans?.. Mitt did not put himself into the story… he simply told that he MET the man….and that drives the democrat hacks crazy..She’d have a point, if he did what Obama does… and put HIMSELF in the picture as the hero.. but apparently.. being a democrat, means party first……. country dead last..I’m a vet, and having left wing family ain’t unusual for a service member,.. but seriously… we know from his friends,.. and brother SEALS… he didn’t like Obama.. so his mom is twisting the fact he didn’t support Obama, according to his SEAL friends, told in other news articles..so she had to be nasty…… typical.. when she had to know her son was no fan of Obama.. check other news sources.. Obama lost the SEAL vote a while back.. and this young man’s friends say he had no love for Obama…

- I am sorry for your loss Mrs Doherty. But you are bias and a hypocrite.

- hey romney people….READ THE ARTICLE!!!!! IT SAYS DOHERTY DIDN’T LIKE THE MEETING WITH ROMNEY….THOUGHT HE WAS GOOFY. So stop yelling at his mother saying that she’s biased….Dang Y”ALL ARE BIASEd!!!!! DUH! ….here let me help you with that LOG in your eye.

The comments run on for another two hundred entries becoming more and more insane and incoherent, if these people were on the highway they’d be exchanging gunfire by now. Eventually, if you read down far enough, you’ll get to the Nazis. Because, of course, there’s going to be Nazis. 

I just don’t understand how can you call a grieving mother a Nazi because she doesn’t want her dead son’s name used to further the political agenda of a politician she doesn’t agree with. 

I’m mean, shit, how do you get there? How do you become so furious, so enraged, about a subject that really has nothing whatsoever to do with you that you’d call the mother of a man who died in the service of his country a traitor and unAmerican?

I boggle at the comments like this one:

- What a shame! A Great hero story, but because the mother (which I’m sure her son wouldn’t agree with) made it political, not Romney. She clearly is in the bag for Obama. Can we remind ourselves of Cindy Sheehan!!!

Really? I mean, really? The commenter is sure that he knows Barbara Doherty’s son better than she does.

Honestly, how far is too far? When do you stop, take your fingers off the keyboard, take your foot off the gas pedal, and say to yourself, “Wait a minute. Just wait a fucking minute here. Holy hell, I’m about to waterski straight to a tank of great white ridiculous. I need to stop right now. Right now.”  Look here, if you’ve arrived at point where you’re calling Barbara Doherty a Nazi, it’s time that you got yourself some professional help because you’ve really got nowhere else to go that doesn’t eventually lead to a roof, a high powered rifle, and a copy of Catcher in the Rye. I’m just saying.

Now, while Americans are fighting it out in the media over a minor anecdote that really doesn’t matter, down in Arkansas a guy named Charlie Fuqua is running for a republican seat on the state legislature (Yes, Fuqua, that’s his name. Let’s not be all fourteen years old about it. Fuqua). Charlie is a fine upstanding Christian man who would like to see Arkansas run in accordance with Biblical law. Literally.  He wrote a book about it, here’s a interesting passage:

The maintenance of civil order in society rests on the foundation of family discipline. Therefore, a child who disrespects his parents must be permanently removed from society in a way that gives an example to all other children of the importance of respect for parents. The death penalty for rebellious children is not something to be taken lightly. The guidelines for administering the death penalty to rebellious children are given in Deut 21:18-21.

The fuck?

The death penalty for your children?

Parents should put children to death so that other children will respect their parents?

What. The. Fuck?

OK, obviously he didn’t actually say parents should be allowed to kill their kids.

Or did he?

Why yes, actually he did.

Charlie Fuqua wrote a book, published this year, wherein he clearly says that while the Bible doesn’t give “blanket authority” for parents to kill their children, it does specify that parents are allowed to kill their kids so long as they “follow proper procedure to have the death penalty executed against their children.”  And though Charlie feels it should be “rarely used,” he does specifically say that the ability of parents to put their children to death would “be a tremendous incentive for children to give proper respect to their parents.”

I don’t know about you, but I think a license to kill your kids would be  less likely to result in increased respect and more likely to result in children resorting to preemptive strikes against their murderous parents.  I’m also not clear how killing your kids squares with the “Thou shalt not commit fucking murder” or the whole Christian Right to Life idea. But then again, I’m not a Christian so the details of this bronze age idiocy escape me.  And yes, I checked, Charlie Fuqua is not a creation of The Onion. He’s a real live republican who calls himself a Christian and you know, never mind, go right ahead and pronounce Charlie’s last name the way it looks.  I know I will, because seriously, Charlie, fuck you.

One more thing, if you’re Charlie Fuqua’s kids, I’d get the hell out now, right now, and I’d never look back.  Because, wow. Just, wow.

Now, least you think it’s just Charlie Respect My Authoritee! Fuqhead gone round the bend down there in Arkansas, meet State Representative Loy Mauch.  He’s another Christian republican (Not to beat a dead horse or anything).  Representative Mauch also wrote a book.  He didn’t suggest killing your kids, instead he announced that slavery “was a blessing in disguise” for black people. 

Yep.

In letters to the Democrat-Gazette, Mauch strongly defended slavery and said a number of times that Jesus condoned it:

If slavery were so God-awful, why didn’t Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn’t there a war before 1861? The South has always stood by the Constitution and limited government. When one attacks the Confederate Battle Flag, he is certainly denouncing these principles of government as well as Christianity.

How’s that a “blessing” for black people? Easy, see slavery turned them into Christians. Doh.

In other letters, Representative Mauch wrote that Abraham Lincoln, the founder of Mauch’s own republican party, was a Marxist.

I guess once you go down the “Slavery is okay with God and it’s okay with me!” road, calling Abraham Lincoln a communist is pretty much small potatoes.  Mauch organized a 2004 conference praising John Wilkes Booth and calling for removal of Lincoln’s statue from the monument on the Washington Mall. He also proudly waves the Confederate Battle Flag and calls it “a symbol of Christian liberty versus the New World Order.”

New World Order, and you thought I’d forgotten about the Nazis.

How in the hell does somebody who openly hates the United States stay in office?

Seriously, how does a guy who openly supports slavery and a political organization that tried to destroy, literally destroy, the United States of America through armed rebellion, stay in office?

Easy, he’s supported by the Republican Party and his fellow Arkansas conservatives who apparently can’t seem to see the astounding irony – probably because they’re too busy assaulting President Obama for not being American enough.

Okay. I admit it. I’m with Fuqua on this one, maybe Mauch should have been drowned at birth.

Seriously man, welcome to Arkansas, land of the free, home of the brave, kill your kids, and let’s refer to black people as “farm equipment” all the doodah day!

Meanwhile, next door in Missouri, Representative Todd Akin still doesn’t quite comprehend the fact that women are actual citizens now.  He remains confused about female biology and upset that Clare McCaskill isn’t behaving in a more ladylike manner.  Poor Todd, he longs for a simpler time, when men were men … and women were livestock.

If Todd Akin is ever lonely, he’s got a soulmate up in Wisconsin.  State Rep Roger Rivard (Republican again, surprise surprise!) says that “some girls rape easy.”  His dad taught him that. Some girls, son, they just rape easy, hell you don’t even need to use roofies!  Roger’s dad told him:

“…If you do have premarital sex, just remember, consensual sex can turn into rape in an awful hurry.” Because all of a sudden a young lady gets pregnant and the parents are madder than a wet hen and she’s not going to say, “Oh, yeah, I was part of the program.” All that she has to say or the parents have to say is it was rape because she’s underage. And he just said, “Remember, Roger, if you go down that road, some girls, they rape so easy.” What the whole genesis of it was, it was advice to me, telling me, If you’re going to go down that road, you may have consensual sex that night and then the next morning it may be rape. So the way he said it was, Just remember, Roger, some girls, they rape so easy. It may be rape the next morning.

Roger feels his comments might have been taken out of context.

I’m not really sure what context his comment should be put in, unless by “context” he means “Arkansas.”

By the way, Paul Ryan? The guy who wants to be vice president, he’s a big fan of Roger Rivard.  Ryan said, “Roger needs to be reaffirmed to get this job done and fix the State of Wisconsin.”

Somebody needs to be “fixed” all right, that’s for sure.

You know, at this point I’m starting to wonder if maybe actual cannibal death Nazis from the dark side of the moon might not be such a bad thing after all.

Comparatively speaking, I mean.

And I’d sure like an atomic powered killer bee laser, I know just who I’d point it at.

But I digress.

 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got another commute into Anchorage tomorrow and I need to go mount some flamethrowers on my front bumper.

 


More Nazis can be found here: Also Nazis, Part 2

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gravity Is A Bitch

It’s just me, right?

Am I the only one who thinks these people need help?

Professional help, with electroshock therapy and strong medication and something involving the word “inpatient.”

Honestly, what the hell happened? Is it the Jesus Fever? The Glenn Beck Itch? Is it inbreeding? Brain tumors? Space Aliens? Government experiments with the water supply? What?

I admit to curiosity.  I wonder if they can actually hear the words coming out of their mouths? Or is it more like a buzzing noise echoing inside feverish heads?  Based on the evidence, I’m guessing it’s the latter.

These people remind me of a joke we used to tell in the military:

An Airborne Ranger standing in the pouring rain, wearing a 30lb pack, knee deep in the muck, holding his weapon overhead to keep it out of the filth, says, “Oh yeah, this sucks!”

A Marine hunkered down in a sweltering jungle, wearing a 50lb pack, waist deep in mud and biting flies, under enemy fire, says, “Goddamn, I love how this sucks!”

A Navy SEAL, after parachuting into the sea from high altitude, then swimming ten miles underwater in SCUBA gear, crawling through freezing surf up a beach under fire dragging 70lbs of gear, out numbered and out gunned ten to one, says, “Oh Yeah! I wish it would suck more!”

An Air Force “special forces” officer, sitting in an easy chair in an air conditioned van a hundred miles behind the line, turns to his CIA friend and says, “Oh maaaan, cable’s out, this sucks.”

Wait, what? The unemployment rate dropped below eight percent?! Oh maaaaan, this sucks!

Seriously, have you heard this nonsense?

Listen, when you see a drop in the national unemployment figures as a bad thing, you have lost your goddamned way.

It flabbergasts me that conservatives, these people who wave the flag and lay claim to such great patriotism, who think they’re better Americans than all the rest of us, and who daily manage to imply that the Constitution runs like hemoglobin in their veins and that they bleed red, white, and blue, yes those people, would think a drop in the unemployment rate is a bad thing – because it happened on Barack Obama’s watch.

A drop in unemployment is good for the entire country, good for our entire economy. Hell, it’s good for the whole world.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it?

These people epitomize the Rush Limbaugh mentality: I.e. I hope he fails! No matter what, I hope Obama fails. No matter what the consequences to the country, I hope he fails.  These Conservatives, who have embraced the selfish me-first philosophy of Ayn Rand and Paul Ryan and the exclusionary bigotry of the talk show pundits and the unreasoning hatred of the TV preachers, really don’t see improvement for all as a good thing. 

No, of course they don’t.

To them, a rising tide is good only if it raises their boat and the boats of those they designate truly American – and as long as it drowns those they deem unworthy.

In the conservative religion, heaven is an exclusive club where only evangelicals and their friends are righteous enough get an invite, everybody else burns forever. Conservative heaven is governed by the Bush Doctrine: you’re either with us or against us, period and no exceptions.

That’s how they see America, it just ain’t that great of place if it includes everybody.

To them, it’s not paradise unless others suffer, unless others are excluded.

Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised, these are the same hypocrites who dismissed the death of Osama bin Laden, the criminal terrorist who murdered three thousand Americans and sparked two wars which killed seven thousand more (not to mention several hundred thousand non-Americans, but hey, who gives a shit about those people, right?), just because it happened on Barack Obama’s watch.

Seriously, when you see a drop in the national unemployment figures as a bad thing, and not just a bad thing but as some kind of conspiracy, you need professional help.

When the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the numbers on Friday last week, indicating that unemployment had fallen below eight percent for the first time in four years, the whole damned country should have been celebrating. Instead, the world’s best conservative and former GE CEO, Jack Welch, glumly tweeted:

“Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.”

I don’t know what’s more bizarre, the fact that some creepy rich bastard like Jack Welch is on Twitter in the first place or the fact that a billionaire Wall Street Republican who helped cause the current economic mess and who parked his company offshore and shipped jobs overseas so he didn’t have to pay either American taxes or American wages actually managed to convince conservatives that he gives two gold plated shits and a squirt of warm tax free piss about the unemployed middleclass as anything other than a revenue stream.

If Jack Welch actually cared about unemployed Americans, he would have hired them when he had the chance.

The president may not be able to change the unemployment numbers, but Jack Fucking Welch, CEO of GE, and his friends sure could have.

When Welch said, “can’t debate, so change the numbers” he wasn’t implying anything, he was directly accusing the President of the United States of malfeasance. 

Jack Welch directly accused President Obama of cooking the numbers.

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that he would think the numbers were a lie, Wall Street tycoons like Welch lie about their numbers all of the time. They lie to the board of directors, they lie to stock holders, they lie to the auditors and the regulators and the IRS, they lie to their employees and their wives, they lie to the American people in general (Go ahead, buy a GE product, check the Mean Time Between Failures number, wait, and then tell me I’m wrong. Buy one of Jack Welch’s dishwashers, but don’t forget to pick up a mop while you’re at it).  So I suppose it’s hardly a surprise when people like Welch think everybody else must be lying too – that’s the world these people live in. Anything for a buck, anything to further their own selfish goals and greed.

Welch is a coward, and what’s more he knows it.

See, when confronted, Welch immediately activated the standard Wall Street CEO escape pod and went into Cover Your Ass mode.

When he was asked point blank by CNN’s Ali Velshi to back up his accusation against the President, Welch responded,

“I should have had a question mark, Ali, at the back of it, let’s face it, OK?”

Ah, a question mark. Well then, a question mark, that makes it OK, right?

Not, “I say the the President committed a crime and I have proof!” no, rather “Well, uh, and I’m not saying he did, uh, weasel weasel, but, uh, maybe the president changed the numbers? Hmmmm?”

During the CNN interview Welch repeatedly emphasized that he was questioning how “implausible” the drop in unemployment seemed. 

Of course, by “implausible” what Welch actually meant was “unfair.” 

It’s unfair, so it can’t be true. Wah wah.

How utterly typical of these Wall Street types, eh? Crash the whole economy, hide your money in the Caymans, liquidate businesses and ship jobs overseas – and then blame somebody else when the bill comes due.  Oh yes, how utterly unfair that things aren’t going your way, Jack.

These Chicago guys, they’ll do anything. They can’t debate, so they changed the numbers.

But Welch was quick to add that he “wasn’t accusing anybody of anything,”  he’d just left a question mark off the end of his tweet.

Yes, add a question mark, by all means, sure, invoke the standard technique of agents provocateur, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and dissembling pusillanimous cowards everywhere.

As Velshi said,

“To say something like this is like Donald Trump saying that president Obama is not an American citizen without any proof.”

Remember, Folks, so long as the Unemployment Rate shows rising unemployment, the figures are absolutely reliable and it’s all President Obama’s fault. But if the figures show a drop in unemployment and an improving economy, well, then the figures don’t matter, the math is questionable, and Barry must be lying. Of course you have to ignore the fact that the unemployment rate has been falling slowly but steadily for the last four years – despite deliberate efforts to the contrary by people just like Jack Welch and the obstructionist Republicans in Congress that he bought.

Just like so long as Osama bin Laden remained free it was a failure of the Obama administration, but when we did get the son of a bitch, well, you know, it didn’t matter because it happened on Obama’s watch.  Besides, we probably didn’t get him anyway, because he was already dead, still in hiding, or, well, whatever, man, whatever, Obama lied, the SEALs lied, the Navy lied, it’s all true, man. And even if the SEALs did get him, the President doesn’t have anything to do with that shit, he’s too busy being responsible for the unemployment rate, apparently.

Of course, this is just the second coming of the same old religion.

This is the problem with creationism.

And that’s the answer to my rhetorical question up above, i.e. what the hell happened to these people?

What happened was creationism and creationist thinking. 

Creationism warps your reasoning ability.

These are the same folks who deny anything they don’t like in favor of conspiracy theories and magic fairy dust.  Evolution, climate change, military intelligence, birth certificates, don’t like what it says? Then just don’t believe it, stubbornly avert your eyes and cover your ears.  If you don’t like the numbers, if you don’t like the evidence, just angrily pretend that it doesn’t exist, loudly reject the offending information and substitute your own made-up nonsense (no matter how ludicrous) instead. Ignore the beam in your own eye and accuse everybody else of lying for profit.

But here’s the funny thing: the universe doesn’t care what you believe.

Gravity sucks you down whether you believe in it or not.

Gravity will kill you regardless of your politics, regardless of your religion, regardless of what you believe. This is provable and repeatable.  If you claim you don’t believe in gravity and you jump off a roof, your acceleration towards the center of the earth can be predicted with precision to nine decimal places. You can deny the math all the way to the ground but it won’t change a goddamned thing.

These people have confused denial and wishful thinking for critical analysis and healthy skepticism.

Of course, there’s no actual comparison between well defined phenomenon such as gravity and squishy arcane economic calculations like the unemployment rate.   The comparison is a mental one, once denial and conspiracy theories based on politics become a way of looking at the world, it’s just as easy to deny climate change as it is an unemployment rate that happens to be unfavorable for your particular political agenda – even if it is great news for everybody else (the dropping unemployment rate, not the rising temperature).

Like the joke up above, how we approach life defines who we are.

The problem with ignoring reality is that sooner or later you hit the ground.

Hard.

And when you do, well, then it sucks to be you.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Obligatory Post-Debate Snark

 

This morning I’m starting to wonder if I watched a different debate from everybody else.

I think maybe I did.

Jeanne Devon and I live-blogged the debate on Jeanne’s blog on The Mudflats. At the end of the debate I said:

Well, that’s that. I don’t think there were any surprises. I’m biased, but I think Obama will be called the winner on this one, at least outside Fox…

Today it would appear that I was wrong.

Apparently Obama will not be declared the victor.

In my defense, I was basing my prediction on an analysis of past criticisms of Barack Obama’s debate performances, criticism he obviously took to heart, and an expectation of consistency by both his critics and the media.

In retrospect, I probably should have known better.

Polls taken immediately after the debate showed nearly seven in ten viewers thought Romney was the clear winner. According to Seamus McGraw writing for Fox News, Obama didn’t just have a bad night, he had a “bad attitude.”  McGraw thought the president seemed by turns detached and irritated and “clearly ill-prepared to face a motivated Romney.”

I didn’t see that.

Bad attitude? Uh, okay, Seamus, but are you sure you’re not just smelling anal leakage from Clint Eastwood in the studio next door?

Again, I’m not sure these people were watching the same debate I did. I watched the unadulterated C-Span live feed, maybe McGraw and the other pundits were watching one of Fox’s cameras, the one with the OMG! Nazis! filter engaged. Beats me.

I thought Romney and Obama were both well prepared, and I’d expect nothing less with these two.

To me, Obama seemed confident and relaxed and a bit jovial.  Mitt seemed confident as well, but I thought he seemed a little frenetic, a bit strident, but not overly so.

I thought Obama worked hard to appear politely attentive while Romney was speaking, though he wasn’t always completely successful and maybe that’s where McGraw gets his impression of irritation on the president’s part.

I think Mitt needs to work on that smirk – I don’t think it’s deliberate, but he’s got this little half smile that comes across, at least to me, as condescending and disrespectful, like the CEO waiting for you to stop talking so he can tell you why you’re wrong. And his obviously prepared zingers fell flat.

In fact there were no really memorable lines by either candidate.

I thought both candidates did reasonably well. I would have put the President ahead on likability, but that’s a perception thing and I admit to bias.  If you don’t like Obama, you’re not going to like Obama. If you don’t like Romney, you’re not going to like Romney. The debate isn’t going to change that and I thought Obama got the better of it.

Clearly, I’m in the minority this morning.

But then again, I usually am.

Frankly, I thought the whole thing was a waste of time. This isn’t a new thought, I’ve never had much use for staged political debates and other contests that consist primarily of pecker-waggling.

I’d much rather see the candidates one on one with a hardnosed panel of expert interrogators in a series of interviews, each segment devoted to a specific topic.

I want them to answer questions in detail without moving the goals posts. Don’t tell me why the other guy sucks, tell me what you would do, specifically and in detail. No generalities and we have fact-checkers online who will be providing real-time feedback for each and every one of your answers. Look directly into the camera and address America.

Start by explaining your economic policy in detail, step by step, here’s a Dry-Erase board and a marker, show your work. If it takes ten hours, well, then it takes ten hours. It’s the single most important topic America faces right now, we don’t expect it to be simple. You may consider this similar to defending a doctorial dissertation. While you’re at it, give us a detailed summary of how you will create jobs, pay off the debt and reduce the deficit, grow business, revise regulations, and address the tax code. Provide supporting information and references and the relevant footnotes. Don’t give us any crap about it being too complicated either, if you can’t explain it to the general population, you can’t explain it to the idiots in Congress. We’ve got a battery of non-partisan experts back here, they’ll be stopping you periodically to examine specific points. You may begin.

Give us a complete rundown of your foreign policy. Address how you will approach each problem in detail (we might need multiple segments for foreign policy, each night devoted to a different area). For example: Iran, when you say that all options “are on the table” explain precisely what that means and what the consequences are. List each option and explain them in detail. Start with the nuclear option, then conventional war with and without coalition/UN support, military action short of war, non-military intervention, diplomacy, and so on. Describe precisely how many American casualties you, as president, are willing to accept to achieve each goal, you may round to the nearest power of ten (i.e. 100. 1000. 10,000. And so on). Describe to the nearest billion exactly how much of the American treasury you, as president, would be willing to spend on this endeavor and exactly where that money will come from, including skyrocketing gasoline and energy prices and how many generations you expect it will take to pay off the tab.

Who are your top ten picks for the Supreme Court? Your cabinet? Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? Head of the CIA? The Federal Reserve. The EPA. And so on.

Describe how you will address the concerns, rights, and liberties of all Americans – not just the ones who voted for you.  Describe your stance on each important social issue. E.g. if you oppose same sex marriage, describe why, describe in precise detail how it affects your marriage personally or denies traditional marriage proponents their rights as Americans – you must answer this and other social issue questions as The President, i.e. you may not use your religion or political party’s talking points, you must describe your support or opposition strictly in accordance with the Constitution of the United States. Period. Again, we have a panel of experts back here and we’ll be fact checking each point. Let’s start with abortion.

We could even have a segment of questions posed by average Americans as chosen randomly via social media.

See? I think something like that would be useful. We could devote a cable channel to it. All candidates get equal time and the same battery of questions. All political contributions could be taxed a certain percentage to pay for it.

Debates, on the other hand, seem to me to be little more than political theater.

Sure, they’re entertaining to some extent, but other than that I don’t think they serve much purpose.

Especially last night’s debate.

Both Jeanne and I were hoping for a target rich environment, the kind of thing political bloggers live for – especially during a live blog where you’d really like to be able to chime with a running counterpoint of irreverent smartassery.

Honestly, I was hoping for some surprises, some stellar gaffs, some real zingers and sound bites.

Maybe even a swear word or even some fisticuffs.

Instead, well, Meh.

What did you learn last night? Both candidates spent an hour and a half repeating the same exact things they’ve been saying on the stump for the last month – including demonstratively wrong information that has been soundly fact checked and is being soundly fact checked again today.

Both Romney and Obama arrived well prepared and with their own set of talking points and neither deviated from their programs –  both sets of handlers should be proud. Both candidates were reasonably well spoken, neither said anything even vaguely surprising, there were no real quotable moments, no “gotcha” zingers. No swear words or fisticuffs, damn the luck.

I recorded the debate and after I’d logged off The Mudflats, I watched it again hoping for maybe a few nuggets I could turn into a comedy post. Four years ago in the debates between Barack Obama and John McCain, Sarah Palin and Joe Biden, combined with alcohol and well, you know the jokes just sort of wrote themselves. Last night? Meh.

There wasn’t any Jesus tossing.

There weren’t even any Nazis.

That’s why we watch debates in the first place, right? For the comedy, for the entertainment. For the mud wrestling. For the drama and the laughs. That’s the whole point. Without that, what do you have? I mean, what’s NASCAR without some spectacular crashes? Just a bunch of rednecks driving around in a circle, see? That’s what I’m talking about here. Who would watch that? Big deal. Nobody would watch Ice Road Truckers or Big Brother if there weren’t tears and fights and drama. If the mean old bastard with the giant white mustache wasn’t such a complete asshole, American Chopper would be just a couple of toothless dipshits building a motor scooter in their garage – hell, you might as well watch bass fishing. Or golf.

Presidential debates are the original reality TV – maybe we should lock the candidates and their families in a house with one bathroom for a month and monitor them on MTV.

That’s what we want in a presidential debate.

We want passion and strong language and feats of verbal derring-do. Fisticuffs would be good too. And some swearing. Jesus tossing. Also, well, you know.

Because, really, let’s face it, presidential debates aren’t much good for anything other than entertainment. It’s not like the skills displayed in a presidential debate are something the future President is actually going to use in his actual job. The president isn’t going to stand at a podium next to Wen Jiabao and argue international trade policy with China. He’s not going to stand on a stage with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and debate Iran’s nuclear program while some hapless moderator tries to keep them on track. Though, you know, it might be fun to try, “Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, you have two minutes to describe why North Korea’s long range nuclear missiles are really heroic instruments of peace. Go…” Sure, and then the press decides who the winner is, “The US President was clearly off balance when Vladimir Putin, instead of answering a question about his country’s role in the Syrian civil war, suddenly ripped off his shirt and proceeded to wrestle a large hungry Siberian tiger to the death on stage…”

What a different world that would be, eh?

This morning, most of the negative commentary regarding the debate seems focused squarely on poor Jim Lehrer instead of either of the candidates.

And that’s a shame, really.

To be fair, without the option to administer disabling electric shocks via Taser cannon or the ability to cut off microphones, I’m not sure exactly what Lehrer was supposed to do. Both candidates agreed to the rules and then both willfully violated them, and because of that I’m not so sure Lehrer deserves the level of criticism he’s getting today.

Then again, Jim Lehrer has been around for a long time, this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s a tough and savvy customer and he knew what he was getting into. Hopefully he’ll just go back to being retired and let the criticism die a quiet death.

That said, maybe we should rethink this whole thing.

Debates are basically reality TV, right?

Let’s run with that.

Instead of a distinguished newsman, maybe we should get that mean old son of a bitch from American Chopper to moderate the next debate.

Seriously, tell me you wouldn’t watch that, because that would be awesome.

Also, one of the candidates should wrestle a tiger.

Bare-chested.

To the death.