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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Heroes and Traitors, The Bradley Manning Verdict

 

And, so, we’ve finally come down to end of this miserable affair.

This week Army Private First Class Bradley Manning was acquitted on charges of aiding the enemy.

He was, however, convicted of violating the Espionage Act.

As such, Manning will avoid a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole, but he’s still facing something more than a century behind bars in a military prison.

He won’t serve that, of course, even if the court gives him the maximum possible sentence, but there it is nonetheless hanging like a sword over his head.

Few, supporters and detractors alike, are happy with the verdicts.

Likely the sentencing won’t make them happy either.

To some, Manning is a hero who blew the whistle on war crimes and who should be set free.

To others, Manning is turncoat traitor who betrayed his sworn duty in time of war and should be taken out back and shot.

As in the previous essay about a highly polarizing case, the two opposing opinions are arrayed more or less according to political affiliations, automatically taking sides in a predictable fashion.

Such is the nature of the world we live in.

Given what regular readers know of my background, it’s probably no surprise that I’ve gotten dozens of letters in the last twenty-four hours asking my opinion on the verdicts.

And I suppose, given my background and my nature, it’s also probably no surprise that I would have an opinion on this subject.

And so I do.

But first, a disclaimer: while I’ll attempt to be as dispassionate as possible, I admit right up front that my opinion is strongly influenced by my experience as a US military intelligence officer.

Of course it is, and I won’t try to blow smoke up your ass by attempting to pretend otherwise.

I spent nearly my entire adult life in the field of classified military intelligence at levels far above anything Manning ever had access to. I have extensive experience in this field. I have detailed knowledge of the kind of material Manning compromised and the networks he got it from and, in fact, some of that material might have been things I was involved in and information that I helped acquire and produce.  For more than twenty years it was my sworn duty to protect the military secrets of the United States of America and her allies. This was an obligation I accepted of my own free will and I took my oath very, very seriously indeed. And like everybody else who has retired from my former profession, I am still under certain restrictions regarding the protection of classified information, not just the information, but also the methodology surrounding its collection and processing and use – an obligation that I also take seriously and will not violate.

Now, the reason I mention this right up front is not to make myself sound all mysterious and important, because I’m neither, but because it means that what follows is written from a position of authority that, unless you’ve spent time in the same field, you will just have to take my word for. 

That’s unfair to you. 

And it’ll get more unfair, to you and me both, because when you attempt to argue Manning’s status as a “hero” in the comments section, likely my only response is going to be, “you’re wrong and you don’t know what you’re talking about, but I can’t tell you why” (and if I don’t respond to your contrary comment at all, you may assume the silence means pretty much the same thing).

Given that unfairness, I’ll completely understand if you bail out now. Thanks for dropping by. See you on the next post.

 

Still here?

Ok, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve written about Bradley Manning before, my position likely seems harsh to the uninitiated – or to those who have mistakenly pegged me as a tofu-eatin’ Prius-drivin’ bunny-huggin’ big-L Liberal – but as I said in that previous article, it’s personal to me, just as is my position on Edward Snowden.

I called Manning a “shitbag traitor” in that previous post, perhaps my opinion has softened slightly since I first penned that piece, but not by much.

That said, let’s talk about the Bradley Manning verdict:

First, the charge of aiding the enemy: It’s pretty obvious that Manning did, at least to some extent, aid the enemy.

Manning had to know that the information he stole and fenced to Wikileaks would find its way to our enemies – his training and experience made that an absolute certainty. Manning most certainly knew that his pilfered information would end up in the hands of anybody with an interest and an internet connection, that’s the whole point of Wikileaks in the first place – and some of those folks were going to be our enemies.

Manning had plenty of training in this subject, including numerous examples from history.

Copies of documents he leaked were found in Osama bin Laden’s compound and there is no doubt that our adversaries, those beyond just al Qaida, are combing through that trove right now with great interest. How damaging is that? Unknown, but just because you read those documents, just because Wikileaks and Anonymous and Manning’s own fan club “analyzed” that information and decided that it contained nothing of significant value to our enemies doesn’t mean that it’s so.   

Manning gave aid to the enemy, to many enemies – or adversaries, depending on how you define the terms.

But was that “aid” significant?

There’s giving aid to the enemy and then there’s giving aid to the enemy.

Hell, any incompetent commander can be said to be aiding the enemy through his own poor decision making process – and some of them have been tried and convicted for exactly that (it’s pretty rare, and tends to happen mostly in Third World dictatorships nowadays).

War is test of wills. War is a contest of luck and skill and daring, of assets and terrain and most especially of information. History is full of battles that were won or lost because a single piece of obscure information arrived at just the right time, and because a commander was savvy enough to then recognize that slight advantage and because he was daring or cunning enough to use it in the right place and in the moment when it would make a difference.  Don’t believe me? Don’t believe that a single tiny piece of apparently innocuous information can turn the tide of an entire war? Look up the WWII Battle of Midway Island and the significance of the desalination water plant and its role in breaking the Japanese navy’s JN-25B code.

American commanders, and Japanese, risked all on that tiny piece of information.

And that one tiny piece of information gave the US Navy a small but very real chance at victory and combined with a little luck and the giant brass balls of Chester Nimitz, it helped send the Japanese fleet to the bottom of the Pacific. The US Navy’s victory at Midway changed the entire course of the war in the Pacific and ultimately altered the face of history.

Our enemies, whatever else they are, have repeatedly proven themselves to be experienced and capable and savvy and cunning

Manning handed them a windfall of information, not just a tiny scrap. Time will tell what use they can make of it. Perhaps it’ll be nothing, perhaps there’ll be no consequences from Manning’s betrayal.

The odds are against it given the vast amount of information, but we can certainly hope for the best.

However, those charged with protecting the United States cannot, repeat cannot, operate on wishful thinking. It is our duty and our job to plan for a worst case scenario.

Manning knew that, absolutely he knew that, he used to be one of us.

Does that mean Manning intended to aid the enemy? Again, beats me. Only Bradley Manning knows what motivated Bradley Manning to do what he did. He’s said plenty of things and he’s made plenty of excuses for his actions, but those things are exactly that, excuses.

Now, looking at it dispassionately through the eyes of the court, I doubt Manning intended to aid the enemy, the judge certainly didn’t think so.

But, does intent matter?

Manning committed a crime, ipso facto he’s a criminal whether or not that was his intention, right?

True, but in the case of treason, intention does very much matter – just as intention is the determining factor between murder and manslaughter.

Well then, whatever his intent, did Manning’s actions cost lives, American or otherwise?

Certainly it can be argued that Manning put Allied forces at increased risk, and I’m about to argue exactly that, but it’s a qualitative assessment not a quantitative one. That risk is something military commanders, and especially those of us in the intelligence field, know to be true but cannot measure. 

Those of us engaged in this grisly business know just how important every single piece of information can be. Information is never just what you see. Information is always wrapped in layers upon layers of other information – i.e. the mere fact that I’m interested in such information tells my enemies something, as does my level of interest and my degree of certainty in the information’s validity, how much effort I put into its acquisition and verification and protection, how I acquired it, who I allowed to access to it, who I shared it with (or didn’t share it with), and especially what other information it might be connected to, and so on. In many cases, this associated information tells an experienced intelligence analyst more than the actual information itself – as was abjectly demonstrated at Midway. The mere fact that my enemies (or my friends) know that the information exists increases my risk in the battlespace (whether that battlefield is in the warzone or at the negotiating table … or in the boardroom). Manning’s betrayal most certainly increased that risk.

Just how significant was that increased risk? There’s no way to measure that, but war is an inherently deadly business, any increase in risk, no matter how small, increases the danger – hell, the mere idea that the risk has perhaps changed can have a direct and measurable impact on your own decision making process. Again, victory is often the result of daring, but commanders are rarely inclined to throw away the lives of their soldiers (despite what you might have been led to believe by popular media) and any perceived increase in danger or threat can adversely affect a commander’s willingness to engage in a risky course of action – or, worse, drive commanders to overcompensate for the perceived increase in risk (take off, nuke the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure. Kill ‘em all and let God sort it out, only then send in ground troops. Increased perception of increased risk whether real or not can, and does, lead to a scorched earth strategy which very well might reduce our own casualties, or not, but the consequences can be terrible. See the later stages of the Vietnam war, see Dresden, see Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

That said, so far, no single death, allied or enemy, has yet to be directly attributed to Manning’s actions.

But the risk exists nonetheless.

Did Manning’s betrayal compromise diplomatic efforts? Did it harm military missions or put US personnel (further) into harm’s way?  Did it damage military intelligence operations?  The answers to all of those questions are: Yes, or perhaps no, or, well, it’s hard to say for certain. The scale of this conflict and the scale of Manning’s betrayal was such that all of those answers, yes, no, maybe, are true to some degree or another depending on where you look and and at what. Again, the answers are almost impossible to quantify in any useful fashion – it’s like the Bible, depending on your viewpoint you can likely find proof of any position based on how you massage the data.

Ultimately, all the questions boil down to this one:

Did Bradley Manning’s betrayal weaken the United States?

As compared to what?

The chicanery of those in charge of the mortgage industry?  The staggering greed and avarice of Wall Street?  The ever widening gap between rich and poor, the haves and the increasingly disenfranchised have-nots? The ongoing pigheaded gridlock of an intractable Congress? The fact that gleefully ignorant creationists in the guise of the Texas State Board of Education yesterday took the entire American educational system hostage at the muzzle of their fantastical worldview? The ever growing national debt? The ever increasing divide between Left and Right that won’t be satisfied until blood runs like rivers in the streets and Washington burns to the ground? 

I mean, seriously here, compared to that and all of the rest of our continuing self-flagellation, how much damage did Bradley Manning really do to the United States?

And so, Manning was found not guilty on the charge of aiding the enemy.

And that sounds about right to me.

I can live with that verdict.

He was, however, found guilty (or pled guilty) to twenty-two additional charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including five counts of espionage and theft.

And that too, sounds about right to me.

See, unlike in the civilian world, in the military your oath has the force of law. 

Your oaths, both that of enlistment, and those additional ones you might swear when entering into positions of trust, are legal instruments and you, and you alone, are strictly accountable for living up to the obligation.

Because of the nature of what we do, the consequences for breaking those oaths are dire – and for damned good reason

Again, some of you will likely disagree and feel that military discipline, your knowledge of which was likely acquired through fictional portrayals in the media, is too harsh.  Again it is here that I’ll say to you that if you’ve never worn the uniform, especially in the position of a senior NCO or an experienced officer, especially in the warzone or under fire, then you have no idea of what you’re talking about. 

Our oath defines us. It is the core of everything we do. Either it is good, or it is not, there is no middle ground.

Our discipline holds us together in the test of adversity, in the face of horror most of you can’t even begin to imagine.

Even if compelled (as is permitted by law under the Constitution) the oath of enlistment holds the force of a binding contract between us and the citizens of the United States.

The oath you swear upon assignment of a security clearance is entirely voluntary and cannot be compelled.

Either your word is good or it’s not – and in the military world, if it turns out that your oath isn’t good there are immediate and dire consequences, all of which are made clear to you up front before you ever raise your hand.

Manning voluntarily swore both of these oaths and deliberately violated them – that’s a jail sentence without any further need of embellishment.

Unlike the charge of treason (which is what aiding the enemy is), for a conviction under the charges of espionage and theft intent doesn’t matter. 

Now, this is the point where Manning’s supporters start making excuses for his actions.

Okay, sure, they say, he broke his oath, big deal, so what? The war is wrong, it’s immoral, unjust, unlawful. He shouldn’t have enlisted in the first place.

Wrong. Or, rather, right for you as a citizen, but wrong for Private Manning.

See, we, those of us in uniform, we don’t get to decide.

Ours, as Tennyson said, is not to reason why, ours is to but do and die.

This war, whatever history ultimately judges it, was approved by the lawful government of the United States of America with the willing support of the majority of the citizenry. We were ordered into battle by our lawful commanders under the authority of our elected leaders. As citizens we might argue the lawfulness and wisdom of the war itself, but as sworn members of the military our duty under penalty of the UCMJ is to carry out the lawful orders of our commanders. Period. There is no gray area here. We don’t get to decide (outside of a very narrow and sharply defined window) which orders to obey and which ones to ignore, which wars are moral and just and which ones aren’t.

Whether or not the war itself is immoral and unlawful, that’s for you, American Citizen, to decide.

It’s for you to hold your elected leaders to account.

Nothing Manning was ordered to do was illegal. He might not have agreed with it, but his agreement was not required and that was clear to him before he ever held up his right hand and swore the oath.

We don’t get to decide.

And there’s a good, a damned good, reason why it should be so.

In America the military is under command of civilian authority. This is one of the fundamental pillars of our republic. The military does not decide when to go to war or when to come home. The military, from the mightiest general to the greenest private, doesn’t decide the morality of the conflict. The elected civilian leadership does, and through them the American citizens do. The implications of this should be obvious and I’ve outline them in the preceding paragraphs.

Citizen Manning may cast his vote right along with the rest of us, but Private First Class Manning doesn’t get to decide which orders and regulation he’ll obey and which ones he won’t. If you allow this kind of rot in the ranks, if you allow the military to decide morality for the nation, sooner or later you’ll end up looking down the barrel of a military junta – history is rife with examples and you don’t have to go very far to find them.

And I’m going to let you in on a little secret, war is immoral.

No matter how just your cause, no matter how righteous, war is immoral. 

No matter how you whore it up, no matter how many patriotic slogans you toss about, no matter that you wave the flag and trot out the drum and fife and sound the bugle call, it’s a dirty, horrible, immoral business and make no mistake about it.

Maybe if more Americans understood that, we wouldn’t have a war every ten years or so.

Yeah, but doesn’t Manning, or any sworn member of the military have an obligation, indeed a duty, to disobey, to stand up, to break ranks if he or she believes they’ve uncovered evidence of a war crime.

Yes.

Isn’t that exactly what Manning did?

No.

Over on Truthout and reposted on The Huffington Post, writer Marjorie Cohn attempts to make that exact argument: i.e. that Manning was justified in his actions because he had a legal duty to report war crimes.

Manning fulfilled his legal duty to report war crimes. He complied with his legal duty to obey lawful orders but also his legal duty to disobey unlawful orders.

Actually, no, Manning did not comply with his legal duty to obey lawful orders – or we wouldn’t be having this conversation in the first place.

This is what I mean when I say that unless you’ve worn the uniform, it’s pretty likely that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Just because you don’t like the orders, doesn’t mean they’re unlawful.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice sets forth the duty of a service member to obey lawful orders. But that duty includes the concomitant duty to disobey unlawful orders. An order not to reveal classified information that contains evidence of war crimes would be an unlawful order. Manning had a legal duty to reveal the commission of war crimes.

Cohn is correct in essence, but she left a few critical things out – either on purpose or because she didn’t do her homework.

There is a proper and lawful way to report such concerns.  That method is drilled into every military member. Every one.  The procedure for reporting such crimes is clearly posted on every bulletin board on every base from Anchorage to Antarctica. That procedure doesn’t include handing over hundred of thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks.  Manning had plenty of legal options if he felt his chain of command was ignoring war crimes. He chose instead to violate his oath and his own legal responsibilities.

If you think you’ve got evidence of a crime, you don’t get to commit another crime as a result.

And then there’s this: what war crime?

No really, what war crime?

Where is it?

It’s not the helicopter video – which I discussed in detail in the previous post on Manning.  As horrific as that is, that’s war. Cohn tries to make a case that the pilots committed a war crime by first shooting the wrong people and then by shooting the people who came to help the wounded.

Again, this is what happens when you don’t do your homework.

Cohn, and indeed a significant fraction of Manning’s supporters, cherry pick military regulations and the Geneva Conventions to justify Manning’s actions while conveniently ignoring the rest of the law.

The civilians in the video made famous by Manning are armed. Clearly so. As such, they make themselves lawful targets in a war zone.

Medical personnel are required to be clearly identified, including ambulances, through the use of international symbols such as the red cross or the red crescent. That was not the case here. Those responding were armed, were not clearly identified as rescue personnel, and by international law that makes them legitimate targets.

Whether you like it or not, whether that video turns your stomach or not, it’s not a war crime – it’s war.

Jesus Haploid Christ, you should find it sickening. Welcome to the fucking party, Rambo.

Manning felt certain information he found in classified military databases constituted in his words “war porn,” in other words he thought his fellow soldiers might be enjoying those images too much.

His commanders had  a different opinion. And it wasn’t Manning’s call. War porn, whatever that means and as provocative as that sounds, isn’t a war crime

Manning didn’t like that. Too damned bad. He could have gone to the IG with it if he thought it was an actual crime, hell, he could have even called in a Congressional investigation (and don’t think that doesn’t happen, I’ve personally witnessed a dozen such investigations, or more), he didn’t do that either. And you want to guess why? Because he damned well knew he was wrong.  So, instead, he betrayed his oath.

Likely you’ll disagree, that’s your right. But ask yourself something: where’s the war crime?

Where is it?

In all the days of testimony, in all the reams of information Wikileaks has published, where’s the war crime?

I don’t mean the dirty immoral business of war itself, those filthy horrific things that turn your stomach when you realize you’re watching real people die (but cheer wildly for when Sly or the Govinator act the same thing out on the silver screen), I mean where’s the actual war crime?

In all the articles, in all the blog posts, in all the comments, how come nobody mentions the war crime Bradley Manning supposedly exposed?

Answer me this: If there was an actual war crime, an actual no shit real provable war crime, the kind we haul people in front of The Hague for, why didn’t Manning’s defense use that as justification for his actions? Why didn’t Manning’s defense use that war crime to prove the correctness of Marjorie Cohn’s Truthdig article? Why didn’t Manning’s defense show that the only way, the only way, for him to get the truth out was to do what he did?

Why?

Because in all the information Manning stole nowhere is there any actual evidence to justify his excuses.

Because he had legal and lawful ways to report his concerns to the chain of command and to the public.

What you see in that information is the fact that war is a dirty rotten immoral business – something you as a responsible informed citizen should have goddamned well known before you threw us into the meat grinder, God knows you’ve had enough examples over the last hundred years.

Here’s the bottom line, Manning directly and purposely violated his military oath. There’s no gray area there. He did it. He admitted it. Evidence proves it beyond any shadow of a doubt. The violation is not in question.  Manning goes to jail. Period.

It does not matter if Manning was confused about his gender or his sexual identity or any other damned thing – a lot of people have personal issues in the war zone, Manning’s personal crisis isn’t anything special.

It doesn’t matter if Manning felt his commanders were unresponsive to his protests – that’s not his call, he had options for a legit complaint, he chose not to exercise them.

It doesn’t matter if Manning felt he’d uncovered a war crime – even if he actually had, it doesn’t justify giving classified information to Wikileaks.

It doesn’t matter if Manning felt he was doing the right thing – people like Manning always think they’re doing the right thing.

It doesn’t matter if Manning felt he was serving a higher purpose – people like Manning always think they’re serving a higher purpose.

It doesn’t matter if Manning was treated poorly while under military detention.

It doesn’t matter if you think he was a hero, or a traitor.

Those things are separate issues.

And while some of those things may be legitimate mitigating factors, when it comes to Manning’s deliberate violation of his oath all of those things are nothing but excuses.

Those things might influence the military judge’s decision when it comes to sentencing, and perhaps they should, but this is not a civilian court.

By taking that oath, Manning voluntarily placed himself under the authority of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Manning violated his oath, deliberately and with malice aforethought and he has admitted such.

And now he’ll have to face the consequences.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Zimmerman Verdict: Anatomy Of A Tragedy

 

Update: It didn’t take long for this post to attract those that are unable to behave in public.  I’ve allowed one drooling illiterate troll’s comment to remain posted as written since it serves my purpose and abjectly proves the exact point I was making with this essay.  However, one such comment is enough. As is clearly stated in the commenting rules, and as I’ve said repeatedly, if you’re not housebroken, if you can’t help but piss all over yourself and the furniture like a drunken frat boy, then you’ll have to stay outside with the other droolers. It’s not my job, expressed or implied, to humor your obnoxious asshattery.  Commenting moderation is now on //Jim

 


I started getting letters the day they let George Zimmerman go.

Many were filled with various degrees of outrage: Can you believe this racist bullshit?!

Some were taunting missives full of smug amusement: Ha ha, believe it, Libtards!

And some were simply lost and in shock: WTF? I just don’t know what to think about this.

I suspect that my email is a reasonably representative sample of America’s reaction to the Zimmerman verdict.

I waited a week to write this.

I don’t claim that I have any profound insights into this horrible tragedy, but I figured there was more than enough knee-jerk reactions immediately after the verdict, I thought I’d wait to see how things shook out.

A week on, you may, if you like, color me not particularly surprised.

So far as I can tell, something less than than half the country is firmly convinced that George Zimmerman was wrongly acquitted by a broken and racist legal system, an equal portion of the population seems to think that Zimmerman is some kind of hero and that justice was properly served, and the remainder aren’t quite sure what to think and have largely decided to blame the media.

Predictably, oh so very predictably, those opinions largely align with the political divisions of the US population. 

Liberals generally think the verdict was utterly wrong, conservatives generally think it was perfectly right, and independents/libertarians think it’s all a big conspiracy to keep the idiot masses under the jackbooted heel of some shadowy cabal bent on world domination.

Unless science invents a magic time-viewing device*, I doubt that anybody will ever really know what happened that night.

Certainly none of us can know for sure what was really in the minds of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, since one is conveniently dead and the other has edited and sanitized his own recollection in an effort to make himself into the hero and the victim of his own narrative – just as any human being in his position would do (which is the primary reason why eye-witness testimony usually isn’t worth spit).  There are no other real witnesses. There’s no video. The forensic evidence, such as it is, lends clear support to no particular position and only bears out the portions of the story that aren’t really in dispute.

And so where does that leave us?

Stuck with speculation and our own perception of the event as filtered through layers of tainted media and our own various biases.

But, for me, one fact stands out.

One simple fact, one simple fact that we can all agree on, one simple fact that is not in dispute, and that is this: a seventeen year old kid is dead.

A seventeen year old kid is dead.

Strip off everything else, strip off race, strip off profiling and bigotry and the confirmation bias of our own secret fears, strip off stand-your-ground and self-defense laws, strip off guns and the endlessly unending gun-control debate, strip away liberals and conservatives and political agendas, strip away hoodies and the notion of what constitutes thuggery, strip away the American Dream versus ethnic subculture, strip away the question of who called for help, strip away who started it, strip away media bias, strip off everything and you are left with one simple bald-faced fact: a seventeen year old kid is dead.

A seventeen year old kid is dead.

This, in and of itself, this is a tragedy.

The reason doesn’t matter, the loss matters, a young life cut short is what matters.

And it should damned well matter to all of us.

In the end, at the fundamental core of our humanity, when we strip away all of the bullshit that divides us, we, each and every single one of us, should lament the death of our children, any of our children.

 

But, of course, we can’t just strip it all away, can we?

If we could, we wouldn’t be having this debate in the first place, would we?

We Americans, none of us, can look at this case dispassionately. 

We can’t look at this case the way we look at white-on-white crime or black-on-black crime or even black-on-white crime. We can’t look at this death the way we look at other deaths.

We can’t, can we? Res ipsa loquitur, just saying.

Otherwise this case would have been lost in the dozens, hundreds, of other deaths that have happened since the night Zimmerman confronted Martin on the streets of Sanford, Florida (or Martin confronted Zimmerman, depending on your point of view. We’ll get to that, be patient).

And that too is a tragedy.

It’s a tragedy, because it speaks directly to centuries of division, of politics and anger and bias and hatred and suspicion and fear, a division that each and every American drags along clanking and jangling like chains behind us every single day.

We Americans might be able to avoid acknowledging our history, but we can not avoid the consequences of it.

And that, right there, is what this dead kid is, a tragic consequence of our history.

George Zimmerman says that he is not a racist. 

Those who know him, his family, his friends, say that he is not a racist.

Zimmerman’s lawyers say that the shooting was not racially motivated, and the jury believed this to be the case.

It is unlikely that the US Department of Justice will find sufficient evidence to prosecute Zimmerman for a racially motivated federal hate crime.

Perhaps it’s true. Perhaps Zimmerman was not a racist.

Perhaps the shooting wasn’t, per se, motivated directly by race.

And yet this case is fundamentally, inevitably, inescapably about race.

It was always about race.

It was about race from the moment Zimmerman spotted Martin walking down the street.

It was about race the moment this story broke across the national news and we, all of us, immediately and automatically chose sides.

It’s always been about race.

And that too is a tragedy.

Some of us look at Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman and see centuries of bias and inequality, we see our violent past and our violent present and our violent future – and we automatically see racism, we can’t not see it. We see a dead kid, all his dreams, all of his passion, all of his loves and all of his hopes, all of his potential, all that he could have been, all that his parents and loved ones ever wished for him gone, erased, lost forever. We look into the seventeen year old face of Trayvon Martin and we see an engineer, a doctor, a teacher, a congressman or a president, we see a Hank Aaron, a Jackie Robinson, an Alex Haley, a Medgar Evers, a Martin Luther King, a Bill Cosby, a Will Smith, a Thurgood Marshall. We look into his face and we see the eyes of our own seventeen year old children looking back. Now, certainly, Trayvon Martin was no saint, something Zimmerman’s defense and Martin’s sneering detractors have taken great pains to point out – but the simple truth of the matter, the inescapable truth of the matter, is that he was a seventeen year old kid.  Sure, he’d gotten into trouble, what kid hasn’t? Sure he smoked a little pot, but c’mon, have some perspective, we’ve got congressmen tweeting dirty pictures to women on the internet, we’ve got Wall Street executives stealing billions, we’ve a guy who kept three women as his sex slaves chained in the basement of his house for decades. You never attended a kegger as an underage teen? You never got into a fight? You never smoked a little pot? Please. Sure, his girlfriend was a ditz, so what? When did that become a crime? Jesus Haploid Christ, folks, if those things  are worthy of the death sentence we’re lucky any of our kids survive to adulthood. You know how many kids in America are just like Trayvon Martin? A hell of a lot more than not. I can’t count the number of kids just like Trayvon Martin that I met over twenty years of military service. Young kids from backgrounds just like Martin’s, kids who just needed direction and guidance and purpose, like any kid.  Kids who grew into honorable men and women, solid citizens, responsible leaders.

Some of us, we look at Trayvon Martin and we see ourselves, ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

But some of us, we look at Trayvon Martin and we see a thug in a hooded sweatshirt, we see his violent past and his violent present and no future, violent or otherwise.  We know who is to blame and it sure isn’t us. It’s those who cry racism and inequality and refuse to better themselves, it’s those who won’t integrate into American society, who won’t avail themselves of the land of opportunity. It’s the fault of those who embrace the thug culture and the violence glorified in rap and hip hop. We look into the eyes of Trayvon Martin and we see every mugger who ever ripped us off at knife point. We see every shiftless loser that ever robbed a gas station or stole a car or broke into our houses.  We look into Trayvon Martin’s face and we see a punk who’ll grow up into yet another gangster, a criminal who pissed away his potential and his future, who lives in the moment with no regard for the future, who glories in violence and idolizes the hoodie wearing thug life. Sure, Trayvon Martin wasn’t doing anything wrong that night. That night. But that doesn’t make him an innocent. Sure he was just on his way home from the store with a bag of candy and a drink, that night.  But nits make lice, right? Isn’t that what they used to say?  We look into his face and we don’t see our children looking back, we see the face of our children’s killer, the barbarian at the gate, the other. We see a kid already embarked on the short brutal life that will define him and those just like him, a drug addict, a brawler, a criminal. Of course he’d gotten himself into trouble, of course he used drugs, of course his girlfriend was a, well, whatever she was. Of course, of course. Obviously, those thing only confirm our impression of Trayvon Martin.

Some of us, we look at Trayvon Martin, and we can’t imagine ourselves in his shoes, not now, not ever.

Some of us look at the body of Trayvon Martin and we think, My God, how? Why?.

Some of us look at the body of Trayvon Martin and we nod and say, well, what did you expect?

Some of us look at the death of Trayvon Martin and say, well, you know he brought this on himself, if he wasn’t looking like thug, if he wasn’t acting like a punk, none of this would have happened. He had it coming, sooner or later it would have ended just like this. He deserved it.

Some of us look at the death of Trayvon Martin and say, damnit, he had every right to be there, he had every right to walk down that street unmolested and without being profiled. He had every right to confront Zimmerman. Nobody deserves this, nobody.

This case may not have been about racism per se, but how we, each one of us, sees Trayvon Martin, well, that has everything to do with race, with more than two centuries of racial inequality in this country.

And that is a tragedy, maybe the greatest tragedy of all, because until we do something about that we’ll have to live with more and more dead kids.

This case may not have been about stand-your-ground or concealed-carry, but how we, each one of us, sees George Zimmerman has everything to do with our bizarre infatuation with gun culture. A seventeen year old kid was shot to death and there are no legal consequences for the man who killed him. He’s free to strap on a gun and patrol your neighborhood. How does that make sense? Folks, this isn’t about the Second Amendment, this isn’t about defending yourself from tyranny or oppression or even from enemies foreign and domestic, Stand-your-ground and concealed-carry give wannabe heroes like George Zimmerman the courage and bravado to trade reason for confrontation.

And that too is a tragedy, because until we do something about that, until we can speak reasonably about the gun culture in this country, about the bizarre Wild West idea that we can solve our problems with guns, we’ll have to live with the continuous stream of dead kids that we see day in and day out here in America. 

A seventeen year old kid is dead.

He is one of many.

Whether he, and all the other dead kids, would have turned out a saint or a sinner, a citizen or a thug, a good person or bad man, we will never know.

It isn’t for us, left or right, liberal or conservative, black or white to decide who Trayvon Martin was to be. It was his and his choice alone. His right to find out, his right to define himself, his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all of that was taken from him before he ever had the opportunity to figure out who he was.

And that is the real tragedy.

For so many reasons.

 

 

 

 


 

* Magic Government Time-Viewing Device: regarding this, yes, I am indeed fully aware that a certain segment of the under-medicated bleary-eyed sleeve-chewing fringe believes that such a device actually does exist and that the New World Order, who acquired it from a crashed UFO piloted by Bigfoot, is using it to control the future.  I get letters from these people. I wish to hell that I didn’t, but I do. Inevitably, should I mention such a thing, tongue in cheek or otherwise, I attract the attention of this spittle-flecked lunacy. If you are one such believer, take note: should you attempt to comment here on your pet Time-Viewer conspiracy, I will immediately respond with ridicule, mockery, and sarcastic derision in the megaton range. Then I’ll pull your dirty sweat-soaked skid-marked underpants over your head and Facebook the resulting picture.  Probably best for everybody, you especially, if you just turn and quietly go back to your rusty run-down trailer and continue your “research” into cold fusion.  Say hi to Bigfoot for me.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Spanking The Monkey

 

The trouble with ignorance is that it picks up confidence as it goes along.
- Arnold H. Glasow, humorist, Glasow's Gloombusters

I’m going to miss Michele Bachmann when she goes.

No, really.

I am.

I’m going to miss the paint-eating piss-drinking mewling ball of fuzzy-headed crazy that is Michele Bachmann.

I gotta tell you, I sincerely hope that when she punches out of Congress next year she doesn’t just fade away like Herman the Pizza Man or Todd “Too Legit” Akins. Maybe she’ll join the shrill cawing murder of crows on The View (Seriously, how long can Jenny McCarthy last anyway? McCarthy is a one trick pony. Bachmann can do the anti-vaxxer shtick and so very, very much more. Just think about it, ABC, that’s all I’m asking).

What?

You think I’m kidding?

OK, maybe I’m kidding a little, but for political bloggers like me, Michele Bachmann is the mother lode. She’s like finding a $20 bill in your jeans pocket that you forgot you had. She’s like getting lucky in the middle of the week when you weren’t even trying.  I get up in the morning and I see that Michele Bachmann made the headlines above the fold and I’ve got to set the coffee cup down because I know the day is going to start with a belly laugh.

Dangerous? Unpredictable? Extremist? Leader of a fanatical army of pretend soldiers? Plugged into an alternate reality and not shy about admitting it? Prone to unhinged bizarre proclamations? Eclectic fashion sense? Great hair?

C’mon, tell me you don’t see it. 

That’s right, Crazy Eyes Bachmann is the Colonel Gaddafi of the US House of Representatives.

"Contrary to popular opinion, Republicans won't get patted on the back or get new votes because of passing amnesty. They're going to get blamed. And it's my prediction that the House Republicans could put themselves in a position where they could actually lose the gavel in 2014, because I think the president, even by executive order, can again wave his magic wand before 2014 and he'd say now all of the new, legal Americans are going to have voting rights.”

That was Bachmann talking to (snort chuckle) World Net Daily last Monday about why immigration reform would be a disaster for Republicans – and therefore America in general.

Insanity is a logarithmic function. In other words, two gibbering loons aren’t just twice as bonkers as one, together they’re more like nine times the raw flaming insanity of just one crazy barker alone. Bachmann, her eyes a rollin’ around in their sockets with the whites showing like a panicked galloping mare afraid the wolves are on her tail, being interviewed by the reality-challenged, conspiracy-fuelled whirling over-unity generator that is World Net Daily is a whole lot like locking a screaming hysterical claustrophobe into a small airtight box filled with snakes.

Contrary to popular opinion, Republicans won’t be hailed as heroes if they pass “amnesty.”

Popular opinion? Is this some magical alternate reality where sexual orientation can be flip-flopped through prayer, where money and opportunity really do trickle down from the wealthy in their ivory towers to enrich the masses like a golden shower dripping down from Heaven, where you really can bring freedom and liberty to oppressed countries in the belly of a B-52, and where the nation will cheer conservative lawmakers for finally doing their fucking jobs instead of obstructing the business of the nation? 

Popular opinion?

Whose popular opinion exactly?  Be specific, Michele, show your work.

It’s telling that Bachmann leads off with that particular statement, especially the part about “republicans […] wont […] get new votes.”

More than anything that, that, right there, is what’s wrong with Congress and specifically with the House of Representatives. 

Right there.  In Bachmann’s view, the only legislation that should be taken up by the House, is that which is guaranteed to get a political party more votes – not what’s best for the nation, not those things that directly affect the daily lives of the people, not even what’s best for the state she’s supposed to be representing, no not that.  Only those things that give her party new votes. Otherwise? Pffft!

…I think the president, even by executive order, can again wave his magic wand before 2014 and he'd say now all of the new, legal Americans are going to have voting rights

And that’s the rest of what’s wrong with our Government.

What?

No, no. Now you stop that. I’m not talking about Bachmann’s ongoing obsession with Obama’s magic wand. 

I’m talking about willful ignorance and booger-eating stupidity hailed increasingly by the electorate as some kind of virtue.

Bachmann is a sitting member of the United States House of Representatives.

She’s been a congressman since 2006.

She was born in the United States, she had full and unlimited access to education.

She’s 57 years old, more than long enough to learn something about the country she’s supposed to be running.

She’s got a college degree.

She used to be a lawyer.

Hell, she’s even got access to Google.

And she still has no idea, no idea whatsoever, of what exactly an Executive Order is, or to whom it applies, or what the limits of its authority are.

How is that even possible?

Bachmann, and those of her ilk, are allowed to be this goddamned stupid because we don’t make congressmen take the same basic citizenship tests that any legal immigrant has to pass. She was just born into her citizenship, like some weak-chinned inbred hemophiliac idiot member of the royalty entitled to money and privilege. Bachmann, a six-year member of the US House of Representatives, a sitting member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, thinks that an Executive Order is like “waving a magic wand.” Like the men who fought to free themselves from the King of England were so damned stupid, as stupid as Bachmann herself apparently, that they somehow forgot to put a line in the Constitution that, you know, limits the power of the Executive.

Wait, what do you mean George Washington just declared himself Grand Panjandrum of America? And now we all have to take his orders? Goddamnit, Madison, you idiot! What? Was your powdered wig in your eyes? What the hell, man, what the hell?

Yeah, boy, executive orders, how’d the Framers miss that?

(You may, if you like, visualize James Madison mouthing the words “bite me” here)

On the face of it, given her own words, Bachmann apparently believes that the president is like King Joffrey or His Humungous The Pope, you know, a guy who sits on some kind of big scary throne made out of the embalmed sexual organs of his vanquished enemies and he just sort of gestures with his jewel encrusted scepter and makes a proclamation and abracadabra! it’s the law of the land and everybody has to follow it or risk their own reproductive organs being added to the pile. Of course, given that as a fuzzy-headed evangelical Michele Bachmann already professes a literal belief in horned demons and talking snakes, I suppose it’s not that great of a stretch for her to believe the president can unlimber the Magic Negro Ray of Chocolate Mojo and just make all illegal aliens into citizens of the United States and, presto change-O, give them voting rights through Executive Fiat.

Hey, far be from me to question a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, right?

I’m sure she’s got the documentation to back up her claim, besides World Net Daily I mean.

Yeah, I’m sure Bachmann can back up her statement.

"Why do I say that? He did it in 2012. Do you remember? Anyone who was here as a Latina under age 30, he said, 'You get to vote.'

Say what now?

Do I remember that Obama gave voting rights to young female illegal immigrants from South and Central America in 2012?

Um, no, actually I don’t remember that.

I Googled it, the internet doesn’t remember it either.

In fact, nobody seems to remember this event – and you sort of think they would, wouldn’t you?

Nobody remembers it because it didn’t actually happen … unless Bachmann is referring to that aforementioned alternate reality she seems to spend so much time in.

"What? He [Obama] decides you get to vote? If he did it 2012, know, take it to the bank, he'll do in 2014. And then guess what will happen? Democrat in the White House; Democrats controlling the Senate; Democrats controlling the House. At that point they will change election law, and it will be almost impossible to ever see a Republican majority again.”

You wonder what people like Michele Bachmann fear? What imaginary horror keeps them awake at night shivering the dark with the sheets pulled up over their terrified heads listening for the soft wet footsteps of the bogeyman coming ever closer and closer?

This, right here.

She’s terrified of something that never happened.

Michele Bachmann is literally afraid of the bogeyman.

This, my shiny electronic friends, is the true horror: the willful abdication of intellect and reason.

Democracy and the Republic depend for their very existence on educated intellect, steady reason, and measured discourse.  Hysteria, paranoia writ large, and outright provable falsehoods based on self-serving religious and/or political fanaticism accepted as unchallenged truth are a poison to the tree of liberty.  This is, always, the Achilles' Heel of democracy. 

That paragraph above, Bachmann’s Bogeyman, is the inevitable end result of religious fanaticism. 

These people believe in a religion that is almost entirely made up of denial, intimidation, and threats of dire consequences whored up in frilly clothing and cheap perfume.  Her entire evangelical belief systems can be summed up in one line: Believe in made up magic fairy dust as defined by the self-declared righteous, or be wrapped in chains of ice and thrown into a pit of boiling oil and be horribly tortured until the stars burn out.  It is a profoundly bankrupt moral philosophy, one based on fear and selfishness and extortion.

And that kind of thinking, that kind of terror, bleeds over into everything.

Michele Bachmann and those like her are outraged by something that never happened and they’re terrified that this mystical event will happen again and then they’ll somehow lose their ticket to heaven.  As I’ve said before, these people believe that America is a zero sum game. They are truly afraid that if somebody else gets more liberty, they somehow get less. This is exactly the same way they regard the ultimate reward in their selfish ingrown religion, i.e. it’s not really heaven if everybody gets to go, now is it?

Again, it’s telling that Bachmann should phrase her fear the way she did.  And it’s enlightening, the parts of religion that she embraces. It’s a case here of do unto others before they do unto you, I guess, given that Bachmann is front and center on efforts to reform voting rights in order to disenfranchise the very people she fears.  How, exactly, election law could be changed to prevent Republicans from winning she didn’t bother to explain, apparently she’s afraid that Barack Obama will use Executive Orders to make it illegal for rich old white men to vote (if only). Meanwhile, Tea Party republicans in nearly every state with the willing collusion of the Supreme Court are working diligently to to bring back Jim Crow specifically in order to nullify the traditional democratic base.

As I said, telling.

“Do we get how important this is? I'm not crying wolf here.”

Again, this is the end result of lying to yourself as a way of life. These are the same exact people who claim they are champions of liberty, while deliberately working to limit the rights of minorities. These are the people who claim to love democracy, but only if the people they don’t like are excluded from it. These are the people who claim to be Christian, but only quote the part of the Bible that happened before Jesus showed up. These are the very people who claim to embrace self-determination as the fundamental core of freedom, while frantically attempting to limit a woman’s right to choose for herself.  These are the people who claim to stand for religious freedom, while at the same time they attempt to jam their version of Bronze Age pinch-faced Christianity down everybody else’s throat – all the while protesting that they are being persecuted.

Not crying wolf?

Not crying wolf?

The fuck?

I call Shenanigans, that’s exactly what she’s doing. Obviously, provably, blatantly so.

”This is working for the president. It's not working for the American people, but, hey, it's great by him. He has a perpetual magic wand and nobody's given him a spanking yet and taken it out of his hand. That's what Congress needs to do, give the president a major wake-up call. And the way we spank the president is we do it through the checkbook. We're the ones who say, 'No, you can't have the money.'”

He has a magic wand. Somebody needs to give him a spanking and take it out of his hand.

Boom chicka chicka bow bow.

Seriously, who talks like this?

Outside of an eighth grade boys locker room, I mean.  

I swear, every time I watch the idiotic drivel pour from her mouth, I expect an anvil or a piano to fall out of the sky and smash her into a little round circle with a pair of googly eyes blinking cartoonishly in the middle of it.

If the Tea Party talk show circuit and book deal doesn’t pan out for her after Congress, Bachmann could always make some dough on the side penning inane dialog for the S&M division of the porn industry.

So, leaving aside that mental image of Michele Bachmann polishing the president’s magic wand, exactly what the hell is she talking about here? What money is she referring to? Congress, led by Tea Party Dominatrix Michele Bachmann and her band of anally fixated chicken chokers, has already “spanked” the president by putting the entire country into sequestration. Her idiot political party “punished” Barack Obama by lopping off their own noses and cutting the pay of federal workers by 20%, including members of their own staffs (note that the workload wasn’t cut, just the pay.  As a federal worker you still get to do five days worth of work – in four days – for one fifth less money.  Because, see, as a federal worker the government has the option of just changing your contract arbitrarily to meet some politician’s agenda any goddamned time they want to. Meanwhile, of course, Congressional pay remains unaffected. Because, well, fuck you, that’s why. Cute, eh?).

So who are they going to rob next in order to make a political point?

And finally, Bachmann ends with this plaintive question:

“What's wrong with us?”

What’s wrong?

What’s wrong?

What’s wrong is that we let people like Michele Bachmann anywhere near the halls of power.

What’s wrong is that this childish frightened woman, and those like her, are terrified of the bogeyman, they're outraged over something that never happened, they’re terrified by nonexistent dangers they’ve dreamed up whole cloth in their fevered imaginations – from Kenyan Socialist Manchurian Candidates to Benghazi Conspiracies to imagined magic wands.

Look, here’s the bottom line: I’m not telling you who to vote for. I’m not telling you which political party to identify with. I’m for damned sure not telling you that you have to like the President – this particular one or any other. What I’m saying, what I have always said, is this: if you’re going to hate somebody, if you’re going to really hate somebody, then at least hate them for who they actually are, not some made up monster you created in your own fearful mind.

That was the point of the previous post, the one that went viral, the one that a hundred thousand people have now read, the one I’m still getting a hundred letters a day about, An Open Letter to the Idiot Nation.

If you’re going to hate the president, if you’re going to oppose immigration reform, or gun control, or Islam, or people with different colored skins and funny accents, or the TSA and NSA and the CIA, or the Gay Agenda, or any other bogeyman, at least oppose it for real, actual, reasons and not some made up phantasm created by World Net Daily.

I said I’d miss Michele Bachmann when she goes.

And so I shall.

I won’t miss her insanity roaming the halls of Congress and we as a country are well shed of her lunacy.

But nonetheless she is the single most visible symbol of everything that’s wrong with our dysfunctional Legislature. 

She is an abject example of the very real dangers of extremism and of the growing religious fanaticism in this country.

Michele Bachmann is the parakeet in the mines of the Republic, sounding the warning of our declining intellect and our perilous abandonment of reason and the silently rising poisonous gases of hate and fear and blind ignorance.

It’s not the chirping that concerns me, so much as the silence.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Stonekettle Station Commenting Problems

I’ve had some problems with Stonekettle Station’s domain management system today.

I was away from my main system all day and only recently returned.

The issues are now resolved, however, there was some information loss.

Because comment moderation is enabled for all but today’s posts (and due to the level of hairy-palmed drooling trollage on certain older posts, it’s going to stay that way), all comments are processed through my private domain email system so that I can manage comment moderation from anywhere via phone. Because the problem was in the domain email system, a chunk of comments were accidently deleted. I’m not sure exactly which ones or how many. Most of the comments pertained to the Idiot Nation essay, but some were attached to other posts. I’ve rescued what comments I could. The rest have gone to the Great Google Graveyard Of Lost Bits in the Sky.

If you made a comment, and it didn’t appear, sorry about that, but there’s not much I can do about it. 

Your Hatred Still Warms My Flinty Black Heart

Forward: Right after the last presidential election, I wrote about racism in America. Predictably, I got more than a few negative reactions from certain constipated folks who choose to be offended, because they read my post and decided that I was calling them, personally, racists  (I was).  Because their angry racists comments denying their racism amused me, I then subsequently wrote a follow-up entitled Your Hate Warms My Flinty Black Heart.  Last week, when I wrote an essay on a certain kind of racism in America, I knew I’d get the same type of reaction from the same type of pinch-faced unhappy people. And so I did (though not as many angry comments as I’m currently getting on the previous post about Jeff Fauxworthy). And I assumed from the start that I’d be writing another follow-up. And so I have and you’re now looking at it. This time, however, instead of holding the comments up to ridicule, I’m going to use their input to explore certain aspects of bigotry in America that I left out of the previous post for editorial reasons.

What?

Oh, fine, fine. Sure, if it’ll make you happy, we’ll engage in a little ridicule.  //Jim


 

 

Let’s see, where to start?

How about here:

stupid lib NO cents white man r u goin to covr us with white guilt. boohoo cri m a rvr. Peeplz hat their own peepz lik u make me sik fuq u

I know, I know, but let’s for the moment resist that urge and look instead at the actual question, to wit:

Hey, white guy, what the hell would you know about racism?

Fair question.

Where does a fairly well-off, middle-aged, straight white male, get off talking about racism in America?

What the hell would I know about racism (and sexism, and homophobia, and anti-Semitism, and etc.), seriously?

What would I know about fear and hatred and bigotry?

From personal experience, I mean.

I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, in a modest suburb of Grand Rapids, Michigan, a place called Jenison.  I wasn’t rich. I wasn’t poor. I lived in a decent house in a decent neighborhood. My folks were married, they loved each other, they worked hard, they didn’t abuse their kids or each other, and they were home for dinner every night. I had enough to eat. I had nice place to sleep in a room of my own. I went to a nice new school. I attended a nice Presbyterian church.  And so on.

There weren’t a whole lot of black people around.

In other words, I was a typical white middle-class kid from the typical white Midwest who grew up in a typical white middle-class town.

Now, I do remember my first interaction with a black person.  I was maybe five or six. Something like that. We were on a school fieldtrip to the Grand Rapids Public Museum (the old Art Deco GRPM on Jefferson).  We were in the main hall, under the blue whale skeleton. As I recall, it was nearing time to leave, there were groups of children from many different schools running every which way, screaming and laughing and being kids, and adults attempting to herd them into some semblance of order.  As I rounded a display case, a black man grabbed my arm and began hauling me in the direction of a group of black children.  His grip was like iron, he moved like an irresistible force. He was yelling at the black children who stared back with wide white eyes. I remember being terrified. I remember confused shouting. I remember the look of shock and sudden fear on the man’s face when he looked down and realized that he’d grabbed the wrong kid.  He let me go immediately and stood there, waiting. That’s what I remember, he stood there, with his hands carefully at his sides, waiting. I ran back to the teacher and said something like “that man grabbed me!”  And he was just standing there, watching my accusing finger pointing at him, waiting.  It’s nearly fifty years ago now, but I remember it clear as a bell, his resigned look. There was a pause, the teacher said something to me like, “That’s okay, he’s a teacher too, he’s just trying to gather up his class. He didn’t mean to scare you,” and I remember the look of relief that came over his face.  He resumed his business and we went on about ours. 

I’ve never forgotten that incident, though it was many, many years before I understood everything that occurred or why in 1967 a black man would have looked so frightened for grabbing a white kid.

But, for the most part, I didn’t know anybody who wasn’t white. By the time I got to high school, I was a nerd, an outcast. I didn’t exactly have a lot of friends.  I vaguely recall a black kid in my high school, junior or senior year, I didn’t know him. We weren’t in any classes together. We weren’t friends. I remember he was really tall. That’s about it. He might have been an exchange student for all I know. Hell, he might even have been popular, I sure wasn’t and so I didn’t spend much time around the cool kids.  There might have been an Asian kid or two.  I remember I was sweet on a beautiful raven haired girl name Blanca – who I’m almost positive was some kind of Hispanic, but I have no idea beyond that. She sat in my Spanish class and spoke only marginally better EspaƱol than me, which is to say not much. She was about as Hispanic as I was Irish. I think that’s about it for diversity.

For me, for most of my childhood, race wasn’t a factor. 

Everybody around me was just like me (only way cooler). I wasn’t entirely ignorant, well, not academically anyway, I’d been to Flint and Detroit, it’s not like I hadn’t seen a person of color but I didn’t interact with anybody other than white people on a day to day basis. I mean I knew about racism, theoretically. It was that time after all. I saw it on television. It was in the paper. We must have talked about race and racism and the civil rights movement in school, in social studies maybe, as I vaguely recall. But nobody was protesting outside my school. Nobody was marching in the streets of Jenison, Michigan. 

So, given that, what would I know about fear and hatred and bigotry?

Let me tell you about my first experience with racism.

Let me tell you about it from my perspective.

I said I didn’t know any black people. That’s not entirely true.  I spent a couple of summers working at a Boy Scout camp, first as a CIT and later as a Camp Counselor. I loved that job, for two glorious months each summer I wasn’t a dork.  I was a guy other kids looked up to. I taught camping and orienteering and pioneer cooking. I taught other kids how to make rope and how to do  wilderness engineering and general campcraft. I was the guy who helped them earn their camping merit badges.

It was the place where I first started to really believe in myself and shape the adult I would eventually become.

When I was about seventeen, the BSA had made an effort to  become more inclusive (ironic that 30 years later the impulse is in the other direction, but I digress), and for the first time, there was a black troop in camp. And not just a black troop, but an inner city black troop from (I think) Muskegon Heights.  The Troop leader was an enormous black guy that everybody called “Rock.” He didn’t smile very much and he wasn’t none too friendly and he didn’t mix with the other white scout leaders, not socially anyway. He spent most of his time with his scouts. And his scouts, well, they were fish out of water, poor underprivileged inner city black kids in the woods for the first time.

Alone, in the wilderness, surrounded by white people.

Nowadays that would be the premise for a funny Disney movie starring Damon Wayans and in the end they’d pull a Mighty Ducks and out scout all the privileged white kids in some final battle of Campcraft Olympics and the movie would end in a triumphant feel-good handshake.

Back then it wasn’t so funny, in retrospect, I think most of those kids were probably terrified.

Now, for scouts working on camping merit badges, come mid-week they had to cook dinner for their entire troop at their campsite. In other words, instead of eating in the dinning hall, the scouts would check out a chuck-wagon box (camp stove, utensils, pots and pans, etc) and would get a certain amount of food based on a menu they developed from the commissary.  Usually, they’d cook your basic Scout menu, burger meat packed into an orange peel wrapped in tinfoil and roasted on the campfire coals, beans, chips, bug juice, that kind of thing. 

The white Scouts had been doing this since they were Cubs, the black kids had no idea – they’d never done anything like this before. That’s when I began to get a vague grasp of just how big of a gap there was between us.

The kids working on their merit badge are supposed to coordinate with their troop, but these kids didn’t understand and there was a screw-up and they all showed up for lunch at the chow hall.  But because they were supposed to cook for themselves that day, there wasn’t any food on their table.  You can imagine the kids’ confusion. Once things were sorted out, Rock herded them together, checked out his food and chuck wagon and gamely set out back to his campsite to fix dinner for his hungry troop.  Now, in retrospect, I’m pretty sure those kids thought some kind of flimflam was going on, white kids got to eat in the mess hall, they had to cook for themselves.

In retrospect, things could have been explained better (probably starting with me). 

Now, I already felt bad because there had been a screw-up, which was at least partly my fault (and if I’d been older and more sure of myself, I’d have gone out to that campsite instead of eating my own lunch in the chowhall and helped by example. Hindsight, thirty-five years too late, but then I’ve had a long time to think about this).  Plus, well, yes, I’d heard that there had been some racial issues with some of the white Scouts and maybe some of the staff, and I felt guilty about that, and I didn’t want those kids to think I was like that. 

It was really, really important to me. 

It was really important that those black Scouts not think I was a jerk. See, I was a dork, an outcast. I knew what it was like to be bullied and called names and to be an outsider. But in camp, I felt like I belonged. I loved that place. I wanted those kids to love it too. I wanted them to feel like they belonged.

So when an hour later one of the black Scouts came hurrying up the trail into Campcraft and approached me timidly, that’s what was on my mind. 

The kid asked for something, I forget what exactly now. Some tool or camp item, matches maybe. He was quiet and (in retrospect) scared and intimidated.  Whatever it was, I wasn’t supposed to give it to him, it was one of those items that were only supposed to be checked out by an adult.

I told him I couldn’t give it to him.

He asked why. 

And my answer will always be etched on my memory like a scratch in diamond, I said, “Well because apparently we can’t trust you.”

 

 

Yeah. I know.

Sure. It’s obvious. Now.

But I was seventeen. I was trying to be funny, I was trying to make a connection in my own bumbling dorky way, ha ha the adults, see, they don’t trust us. Us. You and me, see? Us kids, they don’t trust us.  It never, ever, ever, occurred to me that that underprivileged black kid from the inner city, maybe a only year or so younger than me, saw me as an adult, a white man in a position of authority. Nobody had ever looked at me that way and it just didn’t occur to me.

I had no context.

Humor is a cultural thing. We were from such widely different backgrounds that we had no mutual context, nothing to hang a joke on (a lesson that would stay with me decades later when I was leading Navy boarding teams onto Muslim ships in the Arabian Gulf and trying to find common ground).

What that kid heard was not what I meant.

Instead of laughing, he looked at me for a moment, shrugged, and walked away.

I knew I’d handled that badly, but back then I handled most interpersonal conversations with strangers badly.

I didn’t really know just how bad until until Rock came down that same trail ten minutes later. 

Remember I said he was a large black man? I meant large, big, huge (he may have grown in my memory, but he was a big dude, seriously).  They called him “Rock” for a reason. And he was furious. His hands were balled into fists and when he spoke his words came out like he was biting off 10ga wire and spitting out nails.  We paid our money, same as the white kids, he thundered, and my scouts are as good as any of you any day. They know the Scout Oath and the Scout Law good as you. And they’re as trustworthy as any white kid! And when I send one of my boys down here to get something, I expect you to give it to him without any racial comments!

I was horrified! Appalled! Struck dumb!  That kid thought I was saying that I didn’t trust him because he was black?  Oh my God! Rock thought that’s what I’d said! I couldn’t even speak. I was making squeaking noises. I was facing a very large, very angry black man and I was a dorky seventeen year old teenager who had barely ever even seen a black person before – and I’d just given mortal insult. I didn’t know how to explain. I didn’t know how to say, Stop! Wait! It’s not like that! I didn’t mean. I’m sorry.

So, I stood there, ashamed, and let that man think I was a racist.

We never spoke again.

And to this day, to this very day thirty five years later, I want to find that kid and explain. I want to find Rock and explain. I want to tell them that I’m sorry for being stupid and ignorant, for being unaware, for being able to be unaware – for having that luxury.

That was my first experience with racism.

I’ve thought about that moment many, many times since.  It shames me, thirty-five years later and it still shames me.  That those people thought I was a racist.  And it’s not that I was unfairly branded as a racist in their minds, it’s not that they misunderstood my clumsy seventeen year old self. It’s not that. I don’t resent that. It’s that they had every right to make that assumption, based on their experience. Hell, how many times had something exactly like that happened to that kid? How many battles had Rock fought just to be there with his Scouts? It’s not that he unfairly stereotyped me, rather it’s all the things have happened over the centuries of race in America that I saw in that man’s eyes that day. Behind his towering rage, there was that same tired look of pain, the same sad terrible look of pain as on that black man’s face in the museum while he waited to see what would happen next.

I’m not that dorky kid any more, I’ve travelled the world, I’ve led men in war, I walked through a hundred cities and set foot upon the shores of six continents. I’ve seen that look many times since, on far too many black faces.

And it shames me.

I doubt those people, Rock and that Scout, remember that event. I suspect that it’s just one more forgotten thing in a long list that shapes their lives. And that gnaws at me, that small thing, that Butterfly Effect.

It’s unlikely that that encounter changed them, but it changed me.

If I could speak to them today, I’d thank them.  See, because before that moment, I’d never looked at the world from anybody else’s viewpoint except for my own.  I was a racist, well of course I was.  Oh not in the white sheets and burning crosses fashion, not even in the cheerful smiling sickening sweet Paula Deen fashion, but from ignorance, from being ignorant of another’s obvious pain and history and culture.

When you’re seventeen, well you know, ignorance isn’t much of a sin.

But if you grow up and don’t learn better, don’t learn to see, then that’s the problem.

So, what’s the moral of my story?

That white people should feel guilty and ashamed for something they didn’t, personally, do?

That’s what a number of commenters got from the previous post about Paula Deen and I’m positive that’s what they’ll get from my story here.

They’ll read it and they’ll scowl to themselves and they’ll say, “Oh whatever, Man, more liberal bullshit. More White Guilt. Screw you!”

That’s exactly what they’ll say.

From Facebook (regarding the Paula Deen essay):

I think this article is a bunch of 'white liberal guilt' mumbo jumbo. I also think white people have had enough of the double standard...I dont want no problems with you […], its just my opinion! Haha!

Yes. Ha ha.

Here’s a another one:

isn't this th' same dude's face who was Big Brother in "1984" with John Hurt??

That’s my personal favorite.

I looked it up, my Facebook profile picture does sort of resemble Big Brother from the movie 1984, except I have a much better hat.

Obviously that makes my entire essay invalid.

BLACK people owned SLAVES!

Blacks call each other nggr! Its in the “music! Whutsup niggaz!! But yeh its only racist when white people use it . double standard! LOL!

hATE WHITES MUCH RACIST BAITER???

read the obvious made up complaint. lies. there lazy butts just looking for an easy pay day and Puala is a easy target beause of who she it

I could go through a couple dozen of these comments, but I can already hear the complaints: It’s too long, it’s tooo looong ahhh tooo long (Yeah, I get that a lot), but this guy basically sums everything up in one ugly paragraph (again, from Facebook):

This whole article is utter and complete drivel, Typical left wing reactionary white guilt pandering. It wouldn't bother me so much except that the only people that this kind of nonsense is applied to are white folks, apparently only we can be racist. We must also for some reason take responsibility today and forever for things that happened long before any of us were born and truth be told was instigated by the African tribes themselves anyway. I'm sorry I will not be made to feel guilty about who i am or for something I had no hand in, and as for the so called cultural or hidden racism of today? If anything it is exactly the opposite of what the race bating politicians and looney left liberals would have us believe from my experience.

Right, that’s what I said: Only white people can be racists. 

You may, if you like, imagine the Big Brother face from 1984 making an eyeroll here.

It’s the False Dichotomy Fallacy: If you admit slavery once existed in America, then all white people are racists, right? If you acknowledge that slavery was terrible and without a shred of moral justification and its horrible legacy is still with us today, you admit up front that all current white people are responsible for it and should hate themselves.

I mean, that’s what you got from my essay, right?

Yep, that’s what I said. Riiight.

Sigh.

That’s how it is with these people. They’re like truculent children. It’s all one or the other. Left or right. One or zero. Period. 

It’s one thing to act like that when you’re five and your brain isn’t fully developed, but as an adult?

The world is many shades of gray, it’s not all black or all white.  You can acknowledge the evil legacy of slavery and centuries of bondage and oppression without having to engage in self loathing as a white person. Acknowledging the toxic effects of racism and slavery does not mean that you have to hate white people.  But you can’t convince people like the commenter above that that’s what you’re saying. No, for them, any acknowledgement of the mistakes our country has made, any admission that the United States isn’t perfect to ten decimals places, means that you’re telling them they have to hate themselves.

They are unable to accept criticism of history without making that criticism into a personal attack on themselves.

Again, it’s like arguing with an angry child.

I have no empirical proof, I’m not a brain doctor or psychologist, but I suspect that this petulant childish binary viewpoint is at least part of where racist comes from in the first place.

It’s a lack of empathy, a lack of being able to see the world from any viewpoint but for your own.

It’s the Bush Doctrine, you’re either with us or against us. Us and them. Black and white. Friends and enemies. Those are the only two choices with these people.

So they wash their hands of it: c’mon, slavery wasn’t that bad, besides it happened a long time ago in a galaxy far far away and also besides, yeah, what about black people started it! Yeah, that’s right, slavery was started by Africans, what about that? Huh? Huh?

Oh, well, then that makes it okay, I guess. 

Based on that reasoning, I guess it’s okay when Palestinian extremists gun down Jews on the streets of Israel, I mean, hell, the Nazis were killing them first, right?  Shit, all kinds of people have been killing Jews, all the way back to the Romans at Masada, must be ok. C’mon, the Holocaust wasn’t that bad, why do you guys have to keep bringing it up?

See? See how stupid is sounds when you drag this kind of reasoning out into the light?

Folks, I’m gonna go right ahead and call Shenanigans. That whole “Black Africans practiced slavery way way before white people and besides it was black people who were selling black slaves to the white people” is a bullshit dodge. Sure, there were black slavers, sure Africans enslaved Africans, sure Black Slavers sold black slaves to white slave masters.  Yep. It happened. So what? That doesn’t justify white enslavement of blacks in any fashion whatsoever.  It doesn’t justify any kind of slavery, anywhere or any time.  It just means that black people and white people are both assholes when the opportunity presents itself – something else we all have in common – and it’s still an atrocity.

Seriously, if you have to have this explained to you, you’re an idiot.

If you’re using this nonsense as a get out of jail free card, you may not be a racist per se, but you’re for damned sure a clueless jackass who’s using a racist argument dreamed up by racists and promulgated by racists to justify one of the most heinous acts of racism in history.

I’m sorry, but I will not be made to feel guilty about who I am or something I had no hand in…

Right. Because that’s what my essay was about, making this assclown feel guilty about himself.

You know who talks like this? Closet racists who know they’re racists and are afraid someone is going to call them out on their racist bullshit, that’s who.

You don’t have to feel guilty about being white. If you do, well then that’s on you. You deal with it. The rest of us don’t have to pretend that several hundred years of history didn’t happen just because you can’t put on your big boy pants and face the past. 

No, slavery wasn’t your fault.  Nobody’s blaming you for it, certainly not me.

Up above I said that these people would never understand the point of my story. And like Paula Deen, they simply don’t get it.  I didn’t feel ashamed for being white, I felt ashamed for being ignorant

If you can’t see the difference, I can’t explain it to you.

Look, here’s the thing, ignorance has consequences. 

Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and we’ve seen exactly that over and over, haven’t we?  The reason for acknowledging our history isn’t to make these silly goofs feel guilty about themselves (I doubt anything can do that), but so that we can all understand why those words hurt so much, so that we can be better human beings, so we don’t have to go through life being a jackass like the clod up above. So we can see the world from each other’s viewpoint. So we can find a common context.  So we don’t make the same mistakes again.  The reasons are endless.

Frankly, I wouldn’t think you’d have to explain that to people.

You don’t have to feel guilty about being white, no more than you should be made to feel less than a full citizen for being born brown.  That’s the whole damned point, Dumbass.

It’s exactly the opposite, from my experience.

And what exactly is this guy’s experience? I mean, honestly, what’s this guy’s experience? No really? He can’t shout racial slurs in public any more? People of color should get a fair shake? Everybody gets a crack at self determination, not just the folks he approves of? Oh how terrible, political correctness has done run amuck, the country is doomed.

His Facebook page has a little rant about how he and his family were kicked out of a popular restaurant chain because he was carrying a concealed handgun (obviously not that concealed, if the wait staff could see it, I mean. Just saying).  He was outraged at what he called a violation of his Constitutional rights … and completely, utterly, oblivious to the Constitutional property rights of any business to disallow armed patrons. Nor did he bother to check the restaurant’s policy first, he just assumed, because, hey, it’s all about him and his rights, isn’t it?  And, of course, based on his response to my essay, he’s apparently fine with Paula Deen’s restaurant chain denying Constitutional rights to black people who happen to be her employees.

That, right there, is his “experience.”

It’s how he looks at the entire world.

These are the kind of people who think that freedom is a finite resource, e.g. that if others get more freedom they somehow get less. They look out at the world and glory in their democracy, their freedom, their liberty … and then bemoan the collapse of dictatorships in the Middle East and the rise of democracies.  They talk about how it’s better for us, the United States, if Egypt and Libya and Iraq are ruled by strongmen. They’re willing to dismiss the brutal regimes of Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Murbarak as easily as they wave away slavery and oppression in their own country’s past.

They love self-determination, these patriots, they just don’t think anybody else should have it. 

When these people talk about how white folks are losing their rights due to “political correctness,” that’s exactly what they’re afraid of.

This is why pundits like Glenn Beck claim white men are the most persecuted minority in America - and why he’s so popular with these people.

You wonder why there’s still racism in this country? 

You’re looking right at it.

 

What would I know about racism? Only what I see around me.  

Same as everybody else.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

An Open Letter To The Idiot Nation

Update:  You know, it never ceases to amaze me what does and does not go viral.  This post has taken on legs of its own and again, despite the hate mail, it’s obvious that this post touches on something many folks feel strongly about.  This tickles me. That’s the point of writing, to touch on the things that move people, to inspire conversation and dialog.

That said, while I appreciate that the vast majority of people who read Stonekettle Station and go through the effort to comment here on a regular basis seem to be a cut above the usual internet free-for-all, when a post like this takes off, it tends to attract those who aren’t house broken.  Since I’m now pulling in a larger than normal percentage of trolls on this post, comment moderation is now on. I’ve got things to do today other than play whack-a-troll with these silly buggers.

Remember, folks, you’re free to disagree, but if you can’t follow the basic commenting rules (that you didn’t bother to read in the first place), then you’re not going to be allowed to interrupt the adults. That’s how it is, you pays your money and you takes your chances. //Jim


I’ve got a couple of old Navy buddies.

Had rather, I had a couple of old navy buddies, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

They’re both from the military generation just previous to mine, i.e. they were senior NCO’s when I was but a wee junior enlisted man. 

Back then they were good guys.  At least I thought so.

When I was coming up through the ranks I admired the both of them.

When I put on my Chief’s anchors and joined the ranks of the senior NCOs myself, and later when I was commissioned to Warrant and became an Officer, I worked with both of them in a special branch of military intelligence.  Our job was to get it right, to get the information right, to look at everything with a critical eye, to check the facts and double check them, to risk our very lives if necessary if that’s what it took to get the actual ground truth. We were trained that way, there were systems in place that were designed to force the military intelligence community to think critically, to double and triple check the information – but we, us senior NCOs, us Officers, we were the final check, the final stop before the information entered the system. Our job, as best we were able, was to ensure that only vetted intelligence made its way to the decision-makers – otherwise people tended to die.

Beyond that, as military leaders our job was to lead by example. 

Always, as a Chief, as an Officer, your job is to put a stop to the wild rumors that grow among a crew far from home, among Sailors who live shoulder to shoulder in close quarters for months on end. Our job as leaders was to depend on clear-eyed fact and to never fall for group think and mass hysteria and the other pitfalls of leadership under such conditions.

Like me, both of these men are now retired from military service.

Ten years ago, they would have settled into retirement outside some base in a Navy town, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Mayport, Pensacola, San Diego, Seal Beach, Oak Harbor, and grown fat. They would have hung around outside the local base Exchange, parked on a bench outside the barber shop, like old retired Sailors do, sighing and rolling their eyes at the current generation.  Drinking free coffee from the Commissary, pining for the good old days of the Cold War and Reagan and the 600 Ship Navy, those were the days, we were real sailors back then, man, I’ll tell you what, not like these punks today.  They’d have drawn a stool up to the bar down at the local VFW or the Legion and surrounded by other like minded beer-bellied old warriors they’d have cried into their cups about how the country was going straight to hell.

Their bitching and complaining would have been confined to few old gray-hairs, bitter at the loss of their youth, the loss of their power and authority, the changing world that was increasingly leaving them behind. But see, no matter what, they were always surrounded by the next generation, those hard young men and women, clear-eyed and lean, the ones who proudly wear the uniform today and who smile indulgently at the bitching of fat old men on a bench outside the barber shop. The presence of those fine young men and women make you stop and take stock, make you realize that you’ve become one of them, those garrulous old curmudgeons, and suddenly you’re self-conscious of the fact that you’ve been running your mouth instead of setting the example and you shut the hell up.   

Think of it as a sort of a natural check and balance on pessimism.

But nowadays, these guys, they’ve got the Internet.

And instead of sitting down at the base food court, they sit on the couch in their den with Fox News blaring in the background and their pistol on the table next to an open bottle of Jack and a blister pack of blood pressure medicine, and they comb the web for all the misery and pessimism they can find. Somehow, all that training, that hard won skill at fact checking and critical thinking that was once the very core of their being, is forgotten. Where once their bitterness was confined to a few doddering old farts down at the VFW, now they can reach hundreds, thousands, of like minded strident pessimists, reinforcing each other’s increasingly hysterical worldview without check or pause for reason.

I get a constant stream of woe and misery from these two – and from other former comrades in arms.

It’s an endless litany of pessimism and bitter grumblings fleshed out with the latest NRA hysteria, TEA Party conspiracy theories, Fox News lunacy, and silly chainmail nonsense. 

Here’s a typical example:

Jeff's got something to say... Unfortunately, it's about this country... Sad but true.

- [name redacted]

_________________

by Jeff Foxworthy:

If you can get arrested for hunting or fishing without a license, but not for entering and remaining in the country illegally - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If you have to get your parents' permission to go on a field trip or to take an aspirin in school, but not to get an abortion - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If you MUST show your identification to board an airplane, cash a check, buy liquor, or check out a library book and rent a video, but not to vote for who runs the government - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If the government wants to prevent stable, law-abiding citizens from owning gun magazines that hold more than ten rounds, but gives twenty F-16 fighter jets to the crazy new leaders in Egypt - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If, in the nation's largest city, you can buy two 16-ounce sodas, but not one 24-ounce soda, because 24-ounces of a sugary drink might make you fat - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If an 80-year-old woman or a three-year-old girl who is confined to a wheelchair can be strip-searched by the TSA at the airport, but a woman in a burka or a hijab is only subject to having her neck and head searched - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If your government believes that the best way to eradicate trillions of dollars of debt is to spend trillions more - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If a seven-year-old boy can be thrown out of school for saying his teacher is "cute," but hosting a sexual exploration or diversity class in grade school is perfectly acceptable - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If hard work and success are met with higher taxes and more government regulation and intrusion, while not working is rewarded with Food Stamps, WIC checks, Medicaid benefits, subsidized housing, and free cell phones - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If the government's plan for getting people back to work is to provide incentives for not working, by granting 99 weeks of unemployment checks, without any requirement to prove that gainful employment was diligently sought, but couldn't be found - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If you pay your mortgage faithfully, denying yourself the newest big-screen TV, while your neighbor buys iPhones, time shares, a wall-sized do-it-all plasma screen TV and new cars, and the government forgives his debt when he defaults on his mortgage - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If being stripped of your Constitutional right to defend yourself makes you more "safe" according to the government - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

__________

What's happened to our aountry!=============

You know, I used to admire these men. I would have walked through fire for them. But that was long ago. Back before they forgot how to think critically and before they settled into a hog wallow of misery and pessimism and fear and hysteria.

I hated to do it, I really did, but this was my response.

Of course, I know what comes next. I know it all too well.

_________________________

 

Enough, Shipmates, enough.

Enough of this crap.

What the hell happened to you guys?   When did you start buying into this garbage?

Jeff’s got something to say?

What the hell, fellas?

Jeff Foxworthy? The has-been “you might be a redneck…” comedian whose popularity waxed in the mid 1990’s? That Jeff Foxworthy?  

Oh, well, if Jeff has something to say, I mean, Jeff, well, I guess I should probably listen. Right? I mean what? After his comedy career faded, he became Ambassador to China maybe? He and Larry the Cable Guy won the Nobel for a new economic theory? Did he lead  troops into battle and win the Navy Cross? Maybe he founded a string of hospitals for the poor? Built a Fortune 500 company from the ground up and then sold it off to build the next generation of private spacecraft? I mean, shit, Jeff Foxworthy, now there’s an authority on the state of the nation, you bet.

What?

What’s that you say? He’s the guy who hosts Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader on Fox? 

Oh.

Okay. Sure, that’s sort of the same thing, I guess.

Sad but true.

Except, of course, that part where it’s not true.

What’s actually sad about this, besides it coming from you guys, is that the entire thing is made up.

Jeff Foxworthy never wrote this.  Five minutes of fact-checking would have confirmed it.  It’s just something some bitter old codger made up, and figured he’d get wider play if he pasted a famous name on the bottom of it rather then his own forgettable one.  It’s complete bullshit. It’s like all the crap attributed to Morgan Freeman, or Ben Franklin.

It’s bad enough that the average idiot would believe this nonsense, but you two men are far from stupid and you were trained intelligence officers.  In uniform, you’d have never stood for this kind of sloppy bullshit from your watch team.

What happened to your critical analysis skills, did you take them off with your uniform?

The format and the topics bear no resemblance to Foxworthy’s actual material and should have set off alarms right away, which should have led to some fact checking starting with Snopes. Instead you just nodded because it confirmed you own bias and so you hit the forward button and dumped this crap on me. Thanks for nothing.

Confirmation bias is the single most egregious error you can make in the intelligence field – well, next to just making shit up, I mean. Confirmation bias leads you to invade countries by accident, because you ignored information contrary to what you wanted to hear. Confirmation bias gets people killed. You guys taught me that, so what the hell is this?

If you can get arrested for hunting or fishing without a license, but not for entering and remaining in the country illegally - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

Talk about logical fallacies. 

You can get arrested for hunting without a license, but not for entering the country illegally – except for the part where we arrest tens of thousands of people for entering the country illegally every year

In 2011, for example, 447,731 illegal immigrants were arrested along the southern border of the United States. That’s 447,731 on the US/Mexican border alone. That doesn’t include all the other illegals arrested attempting to enter via other access points or the arrests of illegals already resident in the US.

It’s almost impossible to get a solid figure on the number of arrests, nationwide, for illegal hunting and fishing in the same period (they are typically different figures, maintained by each state), but it’s on the order of maybe a few hundred, maybe a few thousand, at the high end. Nowhere near the number of illegal aliens arrested, not by an order of magnitude.  The two figures aren’t even remotely comparable. It’s the fallacy of false comparison, just as is every other item on this list.

And yes, there are plenty of illegal immigrants in the United States, just as there are plenty of folks who hunt and fish illegally and remain uncaught or commit numerous other crimes all of which cost each of us money and resources. The question is, just how far are you willing to go to catch them all? How much of your own freedom and liberty are you willing to give up in order to catch these offenders? I’m all ears. Are you willing to show your papers at every turn? Are you willing to have all your communications monitored? Are you willing to be strip searched in the airports because you look like a foreigner? Come now, how far are you willing to go?  Oh, right, never mind, you complained about all of those things further down in the list.

If you think illegal aliens aren’t subject to arrest, you might be the very idiots you’re complaining about.

If you have to get your parents' permission to go on a field trip or to take an aspirin in school, but not to get an abortion - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

You people have abortion on the brain.  Shut the fuck up about abortion.

You spent your entire lives in the profession of arms, knowing that your actions might some day involve the deaths of children (can’t wage war without killing kids, fellas, you know that just as well as I – given that we fought in the same conflicts together. Omelet. Eggs. That’s just how it goes) but now you’re all about saving the babies? Now?

Again, the fallacy of false comparison. The reason a kid can’t take a field trip without a permission slip is that the field trip might be to the local museum, where the kid might be exposed to ideas about evolution and carbon dating and dinosaurs or climate change or other such taboo knowledge. Or the excursion might be to the local market where kids might get their heads filled with sustainable agriculture or be exposed to people with funny accents and strange religions, they might hear about birth control or safe sex or solar panels or god forbid, wind turbines, or any of a thousand verboten topics that make Jesus cry like a kid whose puppy just got run over.

I agree that it is insane that that an underage girl can get an abortion without her parent’s permission, that if the procedure is botched the parents are responsible for all that comes after including the medical bills even though they didn’t get a say. But that’s what it’s come down to. Insanity. Because you people can’t speak reasonably about abortion, because you can’t leave your God and your hypocrisy the hell out of it.

Fellas, extremists and extreme positions leads to extremism. Every time. As you damned well know. If you take up an extreme position, and then complain about extremism, you’re very likely the kind of extremist idiot you’re complaining about.

If you MUST show your identification to board an airplane, cash a check, buy liquor, or check out a library book and rent a video, but not to vote for who runs the government - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

The difference is intent

And you know it.

If you don’t want to be talked to like a child, then stop acting like a fucking child.

When the government makes you show ID to board a plane, it’s because it’s their job to make sure the passengers onboard are who they say they are.  Because given the abject examples of our nation’s recent past, this is obviously important.  Ditto having to show an ID to cash a check or buy booze, history would indicate that demand for identification is a good idea. 

Now despite endless efforts to the contrary, nobody can show a significant percentage of voter fraud, or even an insignificant amount for that matter.  In the last presidential election, despite intensive investigations on both sides of the political aisle, the only people caught illegally voting were Voter ID advocates who were deliberately attempting to vote illegally in order to make a point.  And they all got caught, without ID. They made a point, just not the one they intended. Imagine that.

Again, it’s the fallacy of false comparison: we make people show ID to board a plane because we’re trying to make air travel as safe as possible for all passengers and crew, but you guys want Voter ID laws solely in order to keep certain people you don’t like from voting for other people you don’t happen to like. 

The simple truth of the matter is this: if we’d make Voter ID laws fair and equitable for all, laws that guaranteed access to all legitimate citizens instead of tying to disenfranchise them,  then we’d have an ID law that we could all live with.

Here’s another simple truth, if your guy can’t win without keeping people away from the polls, he doesn’t deserve to be President of the United States of America. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, you’ve both seen enough third-world shitholes to know better.

If you demand voter ID laws solely in order to fix a problem that doesn’t exist, you might be the very idiot you’re complaining about, especially since further down in this list you start complaining about too many laws and regulations and your solution is what, more laws and regulations? Right.

If the government wants to prevent stable, law-abiding citizens from owning gun magazines that hold more than ten rounds, but gives twenty F-16 fighter jets to the crazy new leaders in Egypt - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

And again, the fallacy of false comparison.

Not to mention shooting yourself in your own foot.

Let’s start with this “…stable, law-abiding citizens…. “ Fellas, if we can’t do universal background checks because your friends in the NRA shot down that legislation despite overwhelming national support, just exactly how are we supposed to tell if the guy buying that high capacity magazine along with his assault rifle is stable and law abiding? 

No, really, please do explain.

I guess we just let him buy the gun and see how it all turns out, right?

Talk about idiotic.

You were both trained by the military, I know you both, I’ve shot alongside you, you’ve shot on my range under my command, and neither one of you would have allowed an unqualified or unstable individual anywhere near a gun. But now? Now you send me an endless stream of hysterical NRA bullshit squawking about how anybody should be allowed to own whatever gun he wants without so much as a background check? 

You two guys wore the uniform for more than twenty years and now you’re taking orders from the likes of a coward like Ted Nugent? You’ve lost your fucking minds, the both of you.

As to the F-16’s, see those were actually sold to the previous ruthless dictator of Egypt. The one conservatives and gun owners didn’t have any trouble supporting, the guy who killed his own people and who stamped out freedom and democracy whenever and wherever it appeared in his own country. Don’t tell me you didn’t know, like me, you spent plenty of time there. Conservatives had no problem selling more than 200 F-16’s and over a 100 M1A1 Abrams tanks to Hosni Mubarack.  The deal was struck back in 2009.  General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin have been cranking out equipment ever since. So, theoretically speaking, what? Those companies are good with getting stiffed? They built the planes and tanks, but now that it’s time to ship, they can’t sell them? Who picks up the tab? Them? Us? You willing go with maybe another bailout?

And who exactly do you think was up there on Capital Hill lobbying for the deal to keep going though? Liberals?

If you demand that “stable law abiding citizens” be allowed to own guns, but refuse to support a process that would verify that the prospective gun owner is indeed stable and law abiding, then you might be the very idiot you’re complaining about.

If you demand government get out of the way of business, but then complain when the military-industrial complex sells weapons to people you don’t like, you are indeed the very idiot you’re complaining about.

If, in the nation's largest city, you can buy two 16-ounce sodas, but not one 24-ounce soda, because 24-ounces of a sugary drink might make you fat - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

You know, for a bunch of people who believe in local self-determination, it cracks me up just how much New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg bothers you guys.

You can’t buy a big soda in New York.

So?

So what?

I don’t live there. I don’t care.

If you’re a New Yorker and it chaps your big fat ass, well, then vote for a different mayor. 

The size of soda, that’s what you’ve got to gripe about? I remember when the two of you were fit and trim and you used to complain about the fatties, times sure have changed since you stopped running seven-minute miles, haven’t they?

Seriously, if you’re complaining about Mayor Bloomberg and you don’t live in New York, you’re an idiot.

If an 80-year-old woman or a three-year-old girl who is confined to a wheelchair can be strip-searched by the TSA at the airport, but a woman in a burka or a hijab is only subject to having her neck and head searched - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

Point to one case where an 80-year old woman or a three-year old girl was actually strip searched. Strip searched. Actually made to go into a booth with an agent and disrobe. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Personal rights violations by the TSA in some extreme cases are bad enough without exaggeration. And in those cases, the old lady and the kid were patted down same as the Muslim woman. Because, see, that whole bit about “a woman in a burka or a hijab is only subject to having her neck and head searched” is a straight up bald-faced lie invented by Glenn Beck and promulgated via The Blaze.

Muslim women in burkas or hijabs are subject to pat-downs and scans same as everybody else, and everybody goes through the naked body scanner, Christians, Muslims, pilots, old ladies, kids, veterans, everybody. 

There is an exemption: adherents of a certain religion are allowed to do a self pat-down of their head covering and then their hands are scanned for signs of explosive chemicals, but they are still required to go through the full body scanner which looks through the head covering. In this case, the head covering itself is considered sacred, the religion isn’t Muslim, it’s Sikh. But I don’t suppose that matters at this point.

If you’ve got to make up shit in order to be offended, you might be the very idiot you’re complaining about.

Then again, if you’re listening to Glenn Beck and calling Jeff Foxworthy an expert on the state of the union, there really isn’t any question of being an idiot, is there?

If your government believes that the best way to eradicate trillions of dollars of debt is to spend trillions more - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

Right.

Talk about an idiotic over simplification. No acknowledgement of how the debt got to the level it’s at now. No acknowledgement of the basic fact that spending by the government is one of the main things that kept the global economy from collapsing into another Great Depression. No acknowledgement that the three primary causes of the national debt are the defense budget, social security, and medical costs for an aging nation – i.e. all sacred cows that no one is allowed to touch.

You’re not going to do a damned thing about the debt until you address those three things.

If you think the state of the economy can be summed up in one line and then laid at the feet of one man just because you don’t like him, you’re very likely the exact idiot you’re complaining about.

If a seven-year-old boy can be thrown out of school for saying his teacher is "cute," but hosting a sexual exploration or diversity class in grade school is perfectly acceptable - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

The kid was nine, not seven. And the school immediately admitted its overreaction and the principal was fired.  Of course, that doesn’t really fit the narrative of political correctness run amuck here, so I suppose that’s why the entire story wasn’t included. 

As to diversity, are you really – and I mean really – going to go down that road?

You know, if you’ve got to twist the facts and leave stuff out of the narrative in order to make whatever ridiculous point it is that you’re attempting to make with this statement, you’re very likely the kind of clueless idiot you’re complaining about.

If hard work and success are met with higher taxes and more government regulation and intrusion, while not working is rewarded with Food Stamps, WIC checks, Medicaid benefits, subsidized housing, and free cell phones - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If the government's plan for getting people back to work is to provide incentives for not working, by granting 99 weeks of unemployment checks, without any requirement to prove that gainful employment was diligently sought, but couldn't be found - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

If you pay your mortgage faithfully, denying yourself the newest big-screen TV, while your neighbor buys iPhones, time shares, a wall-sized do-it-all plasma screen TV and new cars, and the government forgives his debt when he defaults on his mortgage - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

So, what’s the narrative here: We need less regulation on the billionaires and millionaires who crashed our economy and destroyed the employment and housing markets, but more regulation on the people who suffered the consequences.  We need less regulation on the folks who looted and liquidated American business and shipped American jobs overseas, but more regulation and restrictions on those people who are unemployed as a result.  Seriously?

When somebody like John Thain crashes our economy, destroys, literally destroys, a venerable old company like Merrill Lynch and puts tens of thousands of people out on the street, your plan is to give him a tax break on his multimillion dollar golden parachute and stick it to the folks who he left unemployed, is that about right?

The fuck is wrong with you?

No, seriously, how does somebody get this twisted?

The poor haven’t cost us a tenth of what Wall Street has. It wasn’t the poor who outsourced their jobs to Bangladesh and Mexico, it wasn’t the poor who caused the housing bubble, and the Dot Com bubble, and the Tech Bubble, and all the recessions. And your neighbor, the one whose mortgage was forgiven? You really might want to put in a little more research on that subject if you think he made out on the deal.  Was he an idiot? Sure, but it was lack of regulation on business that let him indulge his gullibility, and the fact that guys like you think capitalism ought to work like the Wild West.

If you can’t understand why, in a civilized nation, we have a moral imperative to take care of the less fortunate, why civilized nations establish social safety nets for the poor and unfortunate, if your sympathy lies with the rich and powerful and you have nothing but contempt for the poor whom you’re willing to dismiss with blind eyes, well, sir, you are the very idiot you’ve been complaining about and I wonder exactly how you square that with the admonishment of your religion to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and heal the sick.  Last I checked, Jesus said exactly dick about giving the rich and powerful even more free passes, but then you probably think he was an idiot too. 

If being stripped of your Constitutional right to defend yourself makes you more "safe" according to the government - you might live in a nation that was founded by geniuses but is run by idiots.

How, exactly, have you “been stripped of your right to defend yourself?” Be specific.  And since you brought it up, how does allowing crazy people to buy guns make you and me safer? When this revolution comes, the revolution that you’re all praying for, when you take up arms and start shooting it out with the government and killing your neighbors, the ones you find undesirable and un-American, how exactly will that make you safer? Again, be specific.

What's happened to our aountry!

Nothing.

Not a God damned thing is what happened to our country.

It has its ups and downs, same as always.

It has its good days and bad, same as always.

Sometimes there’s a conservative in the White House, sometimes there’s a liberal. And America has managed to survive them all equally well – as somebody of your advanced age should know by now.

The only thing that’s changed is now you’re one of those miserable old bastards who sit around all day complaining endlessly about how the country isn’t like it was back when you were king of the world.  The only thing wrong with this country is people like you, those who used to be problem solvers and leaders, but are now little more than broken down old sons of bitches who piss away your time in an endless litany of woe and defeat and misery.

I doubt that that I’ll change your minds in any way, I know just how stubborn the two of you are. And it’s obvious that you’ve sunken far into this morass of fear and despair and misery.

It saddens me that the two men I used to admire have come to this end.

Take me off your mailing list, delete my name from your contacts list.  Forget that you know me.

I prefer to remember you two the way you were back in the day, when we were young and the world was ours. 

I want nothing to do with the bitter old miserable bastards you’ve both become.

//Jim Wright.